Sleeping Alone by Ru Freeman Provides Great Stories to Unpack

I’m a huge fan of Ru Freeman’s novel, On Sal Mal Lane, so I was excited when I discovered her new short story collection, Sleeping Alone.

Freeman crafts her short stories like mini-novels, jam-packed with both intimate and expansive details of time, location, character, and culture. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to make her stories sprawling. I also appreciated how, while often connected by the themes of family, grief and loss, her stories were varied as she tackled everything from an insular cult in NYC, to teens on the Mainline, to kids growing up on rice patty plantations.

While all the stories were fascinating and deep in their own ways, there were two that absolutely blew me away in their craft and stand as testaments to how powerful the short story form can be.

The first story, “Retaining Walls,” gives us a sprawling glimpse into the inner and outer life of a contractor and focuses on one particular family whose house he reshapes mid-career. The use of metaphors and its depiction of the passage of time is exquisite.

The second story, “Kobe Loves Me,” heartbreakingly shows the impacts Kobe Bryant’s life, career, and tragic death had on the community of Lower Merion High School, particularly the minority students. It culminates in a scene I can vividly play in my head over and over where one student makes a connection with a teacher in their shared grief.

If you love stories that give you glimpses of whole worlds and read more like novellas than short stories, Ru Freeman’s Sleeping Alone will give you plenty to unpack.

Review by D. H. Schleicher

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