Games and Rituals by Katherine Heiny: A modern day Anne Tyler

Cover image for Games and Rituals by Katherine HeinyI loved Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser which put me in mind of Anne Tyler with its astute, funny observations and affectionate characterisation. Her new book, Games and Rituals, is a short story collection but if you’re a Heiny fan who’s not so keen on short fiction, don’t let that put you off. Comprising eleven stories, each a joy to read, it has all the qualities that make her novels so appealing. As ever, I’ve pick out some my favourites although it was a tough choice.

She turned Rob’s sentences over in her mind, examining them one by one for truthfulness like a woman picking up grapefruit at the supermarket and checking each one for signs of softness and rot.

Damascus sees an amusing role reversal between a mother with a lurid past and her teenage son which results in an epiphany for her. In Twist and Shout a middle-aged liberal finds herself reacquainted with her inner rebellious teenage self when her Fox News watching, ageing father’s health emergency summons her home. In CobRa a man watches with horror as his wife sets about furiously Marie Kondo-ing the family home, convinced he’ll be next. 561 sees Charlie helping her husband’s ex-wife pack up and move prompting memories of the time she and Barbara volunteered together for a suicide hotline and the night they’ve never talked about. Pandemic Behaviour is a vivid reminder of the early Covid days when some panic bought toilet rolls and others sanitised everything they touched as two very different roommates get each other through lockdown.

He thought maybe wedding photography was like organised crime, or tax evasion, or adultery – you got into it without meaning to and the rewards were so great you stayed and the years rolled by and suddenly, there you were, not like the person you’d intended to be at all.  

Heiny has a knack of making the prosaic everyday interesting and absorbing, drawing her readers into her characters’ worlds, portraying domestic situations with a witty perception and intimacy. Astutely portrayed, her characters think vengeful thoughts, regret their past relationships, are ambivalent about familial bonds, fall in and out of love, feel guilty and long for each other. They’re likeable but often deeply flawed just as so many of us are. A very satisfying collection, read with a smile on my face for much of the time, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for a novel next time around.

4th Estate Books: London 9780008395148 240 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

19 thoughts on “Games and Rituals by Katherine Heiny: A modern day Anne Tyler”

  1. I finished this recently (slack with my review) but absolutely LOVED it. Rare to come across a short story collection that is so even – all of them were terrific (but I think Twist and Shout and CobRa were my favourites).

  2. This sounds great. I too like an author who can find interest in the quotidien. And I see it’s available in our library. I’ll go and nab it on Monday.

  3. Good to hear you rate this collection so highly, Susan. I’ve allocated this author’s novels to some of my subscription readers (particularly those who enjoy sharp rom-coms) with good success. This will be another good option for them once the paperback edition comes out.

    1. Pleased to hear the Heinys have gone down well, Jacqui. I think I spotted on Twitter that a previous collection of hers is due to be published for the first time in the UK shortly.

  4. Haha! My brother in law is a wedding photographer and I suspect he would violently agree with that quote! Lovely review, sounds like a fun read.

  5. Well I really like short stories, and these sound very good. The quotes you’ve selected convince me that this is a writer I would enjoy reading.

  6. Just reading your description of some of these had me smiling, especially cobRa. I haven’t tried Heiny before but these make me want to

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