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The Short List: We Didn't, Stuart Dybek

The Short List is a collection of reviews and critical responses to short fiction. All titles reviewed are suggested for a quick, quality read. Was your New Year's Resolution to read more engaging literature? Start your search here.

We Didn't, Stuart Dybek

Stuart Dybek’s We Didn’t is not a love story. Where a love story might find its focus in the spring of a relationship, Dybek illustrates the autumnal dissembling of love with an eerie narrative that draws its power from moments and feelings that are common to us all. The fear of inadequacy is a human birthright, and the clumsy haste that comes of it is only ever a detriment. Dybek plays upon this theme through relationship because of its universality, but the application of this truth spreads far beyond the realm of relationship. We Didn’t speaks to the ease of allowing such fear to undermine our ambitions, cripple our creativity, and force our resignation from life.
 

At the same time, We Didn’t may be considered a conversation in existential philosophy; Dybek writes, “I’d been so intent on becoming lovers that I’d overlooked how close we’d been as friends.” From the existential view, we often let ourselves be swept up in our pursuit of imagined happiness; we focus too heavily upon the future, what we don’t have and what we ‘want.’ By doing this we let our life and what we do have fall forgotten. The narrator’s reflection upon what he missed in his hurry acts as a reminder that yesterday cannot be lived today.


Dybek’s narrator speaks with uncertainty, meandering down paths of possibility and regret. This voice is crucial in piquing the audience, and establishes a link between reader and writer. If the narrator had instead spoken confidently, or even plainly, the emotive power of the piece would be lost. We Didn’t is an affirmation of the human condition, an illustration of the constant flux that is life, and a call to embrace each other with the urgency of a last breath.
 

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