Assumptions and Other Stories

Fiction - Anthology
126 Pages
Reviewed on 06/04/2017
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Neil A White for Readers' Favorite

Assumptions and Other Stories is the latest offering from award-winning novelist James Mulhern. Five of the seven short stories revolve around Molly Bonamici and her travails through her formative years and into adulthood. Two additional stories book-end Molly’s adventures, yet all contain that sly, quirky style of Mr. Mulhern’s that slides from the humorous to the macabre at the turn of a page. Mr. Mulhern’s writing displays all of the storytelling prowess of the contemporary Irish masters, yet manages to blend it in exquisitely with the use of modern day American settings.

For me, the stand-out story was Drenched to the Bone. The story of a young teacher struggling to come to terms with divorce, his failings, and a classroom full of hellions to whom he is valiantly trying to impart some useful knowledge, the results of which vary from hilarious, to life-threatening, to soul-searching within the space of 14 pages. It will have every school teacher in America saying, “Yep, that about sums it up.”

The adventures of Molly, from Boston to South Florida, also follow a common thread; the questioning of what is right and wrong, and the role religion plays in the lives of the characters. Along the way, Molly finds a unique way to get even with a roommate, has an interesting encounter with a psychic, and comes to understand the meaning of love from an elderly family friend that she once tormented. It is not often that I am thoroughly enthralled with a book, but Assumptions and Other Stories was a compelling read. My only complaint was that it was only 120 pages; I was yearning for more.

Kristen Van Kampen (Teen Reviewer)

Assumptions and Other Stories by James Mulhern is a collection of well-written short stories. One story follows a young boy named Jimmy as he tells the story of his Aunt Peggy's life and death. A few stories follow a girl named Molly. In one of her stories, she goes to visit an older woman named Mrs. Muldoon, an old lady who drinks a lot, and Mrs. Muldoon gets mad at a few of the things she said. In another, she and a few of her friends prank her college roommate. In another, she meets a woman named Myra, who ends up stealing Molly's credit card, and buys a lot of expensive stuff with it. The final story is about a teacher whose class gets into a deep discussion about what they are reading, but the discussion goes too far, and a fight breaks out. How will things turn out in each of these stories?

I really enjoyed reading Assumptions and Other Stories by James Mulhern. The book is very well written and descriptive. I was hooked by the first page and couldn't put the book down. There are many scenes filled with action and suspense. I liked how each story was short, but had a well established plot. This is a real page turner and will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. These stories have many parts that made me gasp out loud, but the book also has a few funny parts. I especially liked the ending of each story, because it leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next, while still being a satisfying ending. I would definitely recommend this read to all adults and young adults.

Trudi LoPreto

Assumptions and Other Stories is a collection of short stories that deal with life, death, happiness, and sorrow in a very unique setting. I immediately became of a fan of Nonna, Molly and Mrs. Muldoon. Each of James Mulhern’s characters contrasted with each other in age, in their thinking, in their religious beliefs, and in their nationalities, Italian and Irish. Each of the short stories shared the same characters, but were told from a very different perspective. There was evil taking place, but there was also caring, love and friendship, and the combination made each story stand out in a very special way. Nonna tried to teach Molly the right way to behave, but Molly preferred to be a free thinker and do or say whatever she wanted without caring about the consequences. Mrs. Muldoon was a widow who missed her husband, Jim, and drank way too much in trying to ignore her sadness.

The twists and surprises in each story made Assumptions and Other Stories really interesting, with events you never saw coming, some making me smile, others leaving me shocked. This book really needs to be read to fully appreciate its brilliance as it is hard to describe without giving away too much of each tale. I really enjoyed each individual story with Molly being my favorite character. She was unusual, unpredictable, but certainly original. James Mulhern skillfully developed each story, each character, and each plot in a very clever way. It is a quick and easy read and one that is quite enjoyable.

Jack Magnus

Assumptions and Other Stories is a literary fiction anthology written by James Mulhern. The title story, Assumptions, is narrated by Jimmy whose early years had been so dominated by his grandmother, Helen, and her friend, Peggy Fleming, whose ugliness was almost a thing of beauty. The poor woman suffered from alopecia and grew up enduring the taunts and innocent cruelties of her peers in school because of her baldness. Jimmy’s grandfather would declare that she was the “homeliest damn woman” whose face sadly bore testament to too much alcohol and whose stick-figure limbs stuck out crazily from her rounded torso. But Peggy had had the voice of an angel as a young woman and had been married to a handsome man, also named Jim. When he died, something broke inside Peggy, and her release from sorrow into alcohol robbed her of that lovely singing voice. It was on the Assumption, that Catholic holiday when the Virgin Mary’s ascension into heaven is celebrated, that Jimmy’s most poignant memory of Peggy was to be found. Irish Catholics believed that salt water held curative powers on that day, so Jimmy, his sister, grandmother and Peggy went off to Nantasket Beach to take in the sun, the curative waters and to frolic for a day.

James Mulhern’s literary fiction anthology, Assumptions and Other Stories, will evoke memories in Irish and Italian Catholics of family gatherings and family crises, of a simpler time when faith was taken as a given and atheism only a whisper of doubt. I was enchanted by the title story, Assumptions. I loved hearing Jimmy speak about how Peggy helped rescue his dog from the pound and worked tirelessly to find him a home. In Mulhern’s tale, one can sense the innocence and hopefulness of the late 1960s and '70s, even as the Vietnam War continued to process the bodies of dead soldiers, and Americans still reeled over the assassination of the Kennedy brothers. Mulhern’s beach scene in this tale is outstanding. A cascade of images dances across the page. First, there’s poor Peggy’s wig which flies off her head in the ocean breezes, and the four beachgoers laugh “uproariously” as they chase after it. Then Jimmy and Beth’s explorations at the water’s edge are a delight as they explore around rocks and crevices and find tiny crabs, starfish and clams. But the brightest moment comes when an unexpectedly strong wave knocks Helen and Peggy off their feet. The image of them kneeling in the surf and laughing with delight and surprise till tears run down their cheeks is so powerful; it held me spellbound and made me wonder what other marvels awaited me inside this collection of stories. Assumptions and Other Stories is most highly recommended.