book review

Book Review: The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile

THE GUITAR PLAYER AND OTHER SONGS OF EXILE by Jo Ann Kiser is a poignant collection of rural short stories where nostalgia runs deep. Check out what Joelene Pynnonen has to say in her review of this short story collection. 

Book Review: The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Nostalgia runs deep in this poignant collection of rural short stories. 

A young girl watches the man with the guitar pass her house on his daily trip home. As she grows, her life inextricably winds around him on the smattering of occasions they are together. A woman waits by her old, previously capable, and stoic father as he dies, regret soaked into her marrow. Two siblings trek across the county on a trip—that may be the last—to reconnect with their roots. 

The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile is a debut work rich in sensory detail, nostalgia, and emotion. This collection is set in rural Kentucky. Much of the collection looks to the past—at a time when workers toiled at thankless and dangerous jobs in the mines, where the modern world began to catch up to older sensibilities. There is a desperate sense of being forced to an uncertain future while clinging to an evaporating present. 

All across the board, the writing in this collection is wonderful. Crisp, clear, with a weight to it that is hard to shake. The stories feel more like pieces lifted right out of life and slapped fresh upon the page. No sense of beginning or end, just the world turning ever onward. 

As in all collections, a couple of the tales shine more brightly than others. There’s a lovely, if desperate, atmosphere in “Tecumseh,” a portrait of a hard-working, brave, proud man from the point of view of his wife. Relationships are drawn so well in this piece. The love between Sally and her husband has deepened and evolved through their marriage until it is a rock that they can both lean on without ever questioning its strength. 

In “His Story,” Daisy sits by her dying father, mourning how little she knows of him. Regretting her decision not to come home in times that he had needed her and jealous of those who had known parts of him she never would. It’s a portrayal of the parent-child bond that probably hits too close to home for many of us but is no less tender for it.

The viewpoints and experiences of the main characters in quite a few of the stories feel similar. I couldn’t always tell the difference in voice or perspective, which makes some stories bleed into one another, and I wonder what it all could have looked like if one character appeared in multiple stories rather than different characters with such similar back stories.

The Guitar Player is a lovely contemplative collection of stories with deep feeling on every page. None of the sentiment is overblown; it is kept in quiet—deliberate, stoic. The understated quietness of the emotion makes this book all the more poignant.

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Short Story Collection

Print Length: 238 pages

ISBN: 978-1639884384

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