Apparently, there are countless ways to tell one story, to say one thing. It is difficult to say whether or not Leslie Pietrzyk’s Drue Heinz Literature Prize winning collection of stories, This Angel on My Chest, is either fiction or nonfiction. It is true that the author herself had become widowed as a young adult, which is the case for every other young adult woman in each short story within the collection. Pietrzyk has explicitly stated that her book reflects the obsessive nature of grief. The so-called obsessive nature, however, reveals itself as beautiful and fluid, shifting points of views with every new woman’s story.
Sometimes the bereaved narrator speaks in first person, other times in second person, and third person, too. This Angel on My Chest is a book that becomes aware of itself: there is a story significantly longer than the rest in the middle of the work, entitled ‘One True Thing,’ where the narrator reflects on all the different points of view writing may contain. The narrator, of course, is a writer giving a craft lecture at a writer’s conference. It becomes clear that this lecture represents the many points of views and slightly altered, half-true stories that the rest of the book tells.
Pietrzyk not only grapples with intense loss and widowhood in her stunning, emotional and darkly funny collection, but she also makes commentary on ‘the truth’– although she is a storyteller of other women’s lives as widows, she channels the anger, guilt and love that follows after her own husband’s death. Pietrzyk opens the doorway to a hybrid genre of fiction and nonfiction, a brilliant way to communicate the journey through loss.
Reviewed by: Lauren Sarrantonio