Reviewed by Dominique Bruno
Anne Leigh Parrish’s Our Love Could Light The World introduces us to the Dugans, a family in Upstate New York who seem fated to permanent misfortune. Mrs. Lavinia Dugan, who always assumes “the worst,” goes to work each day to support her five children and their dog Thaddeus. Her husband, Mr. Potter Dugan can’t work, since he slipped a disc in his back. Instead he spends his days alternating between a pain that ranges “from annoying to agonizing,” and occasionally calling on his sister, Patty Dugan in Montana to come help out with the kids. In the twelve stories of Parrish’s linked collection, the Dugans try to better their own lives through a series of relational connections and breakages that uncannily resonate with our own experiences, as these characters attempt to learn the value of emotional honesty.
Repurposing common themes, Parrish reinvigorates the saga of a large family’s fracturing. In “Trouble” the oldest Dugan daughter Angie has to leave her mother, and stay with her Aunt Patty under ambiguously sinister circumstances that cannot simply be placed under the umbrella of sexual awakening. While in “The Sorrow of the Country,” Potter Dugan’s zeal for the renovation of his childhood home begins (and ends) with his own desire for a second chance that he knows will never be his. However, it’s in the titular “Our Love Could Light The World,” when we are introduced to the Dugans: all of their infighting, their rivalries, and their many heartbreaks, that affirms our own universal anxiety over the chronically unmet expectation.
Rendered with a precise balance of wit and mercy, the ballad of the Dugans presents Parrish as a sympathetic reporter on the family’ affairs, while keeping saccharine pity at bay. In truth, the Dugans could be any family. Each member’s refracting pieces of their lives into narrative shows how our messiest and most intimate stories could be superimposed onto part of the Dugan’s lives, and we would fit right in.
What is wonderful about Parrish’s work in Our Love is the graceful arrangement of such perfectly imperfect characters within the immediacy of each story. To the end (in the viscerally heartbreaking “Lavinia,”) Parrish depicts the human impulse to do what is right, even if we mask it as wanting to satisfy a transient desire. That conflict between pretense and morality reveals the beauty of her prose, and mirrors our experience reading it.