I Didn't know what to say so i just said thanks book review david joseph
book review

Book Review: I Didn’t Know What to Say, So I Just Said Thanks

I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY, SO I JUST SAID THANKS by David Joseph is a quiet story collection of the quotidian. Check out what Nick Rees Gardner has to say in his book review of this indie short fiction book.

I Didn’t Know What to Say, So I Just Said Thanks

by David Joseph

Genre: Literary Fiction / Short Story Collection

Print Length: 190 pages

Reviewed by Nick Rees Gardner

A quiet story collection of the quotidian, exemplifying the tough decisions and seemingly subtle regrets of everyday life.

The characters in the 19 stories that make up David Joseph’s I Didn’t Know What to Say, So I Just Said Thanks, don’t live what many would see as sensational lives. They spend their days in delicatessens or dive bars or fishing alone on the river. They are waitresses, border patrolmen, milkmen, husbands and wives. They spend a lot of time deep in thought, considering their futures, their relationships, and mistakes from their past. But Joseph puts his characters under the microscope to show the reader that these quiet ruminative times of life are where change occurs, where life is inevitably altered. Though the front story may occur over the span of a meal or while driving a couple miles, the scope of the story explores an entire life.

“Highway 5,” the sixth story in the collection, is exemplary of this dilation. When Roland, a truck driver, is passed by a family in a minivan, he doesn’t expect that just a few miles up the road, he will find their car flipped, the passengers dead. Though tragic, the wreck itself doesn’t change Roland but it is his reaction to it, the ability to disconnect. He learned this emotional distance during his time in the military. It’s a skill that “He wished he didn’t know, but he did. He had done it before and he acted swiftly and calmly.” It is the horrors of his past that frighten him, their resurgence superimposed onto this scene. 

While “Highway 5” may be one of the more sensational stories, others remain in moments of calm. “Fish That Leap” follows a man as he floats down the river on his kayak contemplating his drinking and divorce. And the final two stories, “Widowers” and “Leaving Town” take place mostly as conversations, the former between two old men and the latter between a husband and wife. In both stories, the characters feel they are at the brink of some sort of change and are unsure how to react.  The third story, “Locals,” is narrated by a man who visits a small-town bar and, while working on his pint of Guinness, overhears an argument between the bartender and a businessman who wants to buy and level the bar. The narrator listens as the tenacious local’s anger escalates and observes that “The past and the future always slammed up against one another, and locals saw the concept of adaptation as the very definition of failure.” 

Though the stories are quiet, Joseph doesn’t steer away from these incisive phrases that cut through the subtle storytelling to the harsh truth. A student of the likes of Hemingway and Raymond Carver, his prose is spare as possible, offering just enough information to understand the character and the setting before honing in on the conflict at the heart of the story. But keen assertions pepper the collection, such as in “The Anniversary,” when a son helps his cancer-weakened mother to the car. The narrator states, “I could feel her leaning toward me, partly in apology, partly in appreciation.” And he comments: “Mothers aren’t supposed to apologize to their sons, even silently. It’s supposed to be the other way around.” This commentary on the reversal of roles between an ailing mother and her son are heartbreaking, sharp as a knife.

Without a doubt, David Joseph is a perceptive observer of humanity and the stories in I Didn’t Know What to Say, So I Just Said Thanks are chock full of insight into the human condition. He knows the traumas that haunt us and the ways in which those hauntings manifest as life goes on, and he understands the struggles, the tough decisions that we all put off until they weigh a thousand tons. Though the collection contains some hints at governmental policies and societal change, these are not stories about politics or society as much as they are stories about human beings with individual minds. These are stories about trying to live with and accept oneself, and each story packs a punch.

Thank you for reading Nick Rees Gardner’s book review of I Didn’t Know What to Say, So I Just Said Thanks by David Joseph! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.

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