‘I Meant It Once,’ by Kate Doyle
Kate Doyle’s lively debut collection, “I Meant It Once” (Algonquin Books, $17.99), focuses on the trials of young professionals, creative types and lonely urbanites. Most of them are women, many are writers — and even those who wouldn’t call themselves “writers” strive to find just the right words to convey their hurt feelings.
To that end, the collection’s opening story is provocatively titled “That Is Shocking,” and it poses the question: If your boyfriend brought you homemade scones to break up with you, would you eat them? What if the scones were heart-shaped? The story begins with a lover’s betrayal and ends with the revelation that our wronged protagonist is no saint herself. Doyle’s characters want our approval and sympathy, but more often than not, they are at least partially to blame for their circumstances, which gives these clever stories their sting.
Several of these stories are linked, centered on the character of Helen, an eldest sister suffering from a lost friendship. (All of Doyle’s characters seem like they know each other or could plausibly have a friend in common.) “Moments Earlier” is a highlight, the collection’s most devastating entry. It takes a kaleidoscopic look at an accident and how it shapes the lives of three friends. The light, wry inverse of “Moments Earlier” is the very brief “At the Time.” A postmodern account of everything that did or didn’t happen at the end of a relationship, it wrings pathos from an unwieldy string of hypotheticals. Here, Doyle’s prose reads like Lydia Davis at her most arch and pensive.