Bookends Stories of Love and Loss

BOOKENDS Stories of Love, Loss, and Renewal is award-winning author, Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold’s third work of fiction.


The wedding that turns feast into fiasco; the childhood games that foreshadow life’s realities; dreams of romance shattered and reborn; professional and creative identities forged, challenged, and affirmed; farewells presaged and paid – these eight poetic and poignant stories, reflected through the prism of love and loss, ultimately offer the reader epiphanies of renewal.

. . . A fine collection, her best so far with a command of dialogue, flashbacks handled gracefully and seamlessly, and stream-of-consciousness very un-self-conscious. – (Donna Pucciani, Hanging Like Hope on the Equinox & other volumes)


Two stories from Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold’s debut short story collection Bookends: Stories Of Love, Loss, And Renewal have won honorable mentions in the American Short Story Contest, sponsored by Grey Wolfe Publishing in Michigan. The stories “A Grain of Sand” and “Leonardo…on the Beach” will be included in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s annual anthology of short stories to be published later this year.


Donna Pucciani, award-winning Chicago poet, writes of Bookends on (March 20, 2014):

Bookends, the new volume of stories by master storyteller Verdino-Sullwold, leads the reader through the best and the worst of life in the Baby-Boomer generation and beyond, summoning vintage Americana and ethnic nostalgia in the form of weddings, funerals, and romances in all their complexity. The tales evoke the political trauma of Civil Rights activism and peace demonstrations against a backdrop of the Beatles, Wagnerian opera, and other fascinating cultural elements. Memories blend the stuff of first love, remorse and regret, distant liasons, proposals and rejections, cats and cantos, and a teacher reunited with a former student years later.

At the heart of each story, a protagonist faces conflicts with a domineering mother, a past or present lover, or the interior terrors of panic and grief. These emotional journeys often involve the physical act of traveling, whether by air to Milan or by train to New York, symbolizing the inner turmoil of the characters.

Perhaps the strongest element of Verdino-Sullwold’s book is her command of the theatrical, her ability to draw the reader into intense scenes wrought with emotional dialogue, characters both tragic and semi-comedic, and the sense of being onstage at a particular moment in time, reflecting the author’s professional background in the performing arts as director and critic. Readers will lose, then find themselves in these intimately-drawn family and romantic dramas.

First      Valerie Porter (March 24, 2014):

The women whose stories are told in Bookends – Stories of Love, Loss, and Renewal are seen at various stages of their lives. There’s a hesitant young bride, a disenchanted career woman, a woman who thinks she sees a former love with a surprising partner, and there are those who mourn the loss of a friend, husband or relationship.

Author Carla Verdino Sullwold’s idea to weave eight individual short stories of love, loss and starting over into a book is an intriguing one. It’s enhanced even more with the addition of hauntingly simple but beautiful photographs by Lisa Miglietta and Michelle Seacord, setting the mood at each story’s beginning.

In “The Wedding”, Olivia is attending the funeral of her friend Cesca and thinking how in death her friend’s face wears the same sad expression as on her wedding day 35 years ago. In “Brave Ladies”, three longtime friends reunite to discuss their lives and realize that their childhood game of “Brave Ladies” has an ironic relevance to their lives today. In “Abschied”, a widow named Maya is on a trip to honor what would have been her 41st wedding anniversary. She’s brought along her dog and cat, who are her closest companions since her husband’s recent passing.

In “Goodbye”, another widow named Chantal is heading to New York City. She and her late husband had been involved in the theatre for many years and she’s writing a book about him. She attends a play to witness her former drama student’s outstanding, breakout performance on Broadway. A career ends as another begins, she realizes.

Such is the nature of all the stories. They promise an emotional tidal wave – an opportunity to love, cry and hope along with the fascinating characters the author has created. Unfortunately, the promise is never quite realized. The stories are enchanting and thought-provoking, yet time and again, the author stops just short of any truly satisfying conclusion. The abrupt endings leave the reader feeling cheated of an emotional release that was almost there, but not quite. A few more pages – a little more resolution to each story – could have taken the book to great heights. Bookends…leaves readers wanting more. 

Self Publishing Review
 March 14, 2014

This slim volume of short stories works as something of a fugue on grief and loss, featuring fragile women at both ends of their adult lives. Strangely, the two stages are not that different, at least not for these women, and that is perhaps the saddest thing in these rather sad stories.

The characters in these stories are, for the most part, weak, wispy women,widows adrift, and vaporous young women with overbearing mothers (more than once called dragons)who seem not so much unable to cope as unable to navigate when the men in their lives abandon them or, more often, die (treadmills are dangerous places for Verdino-Süllwold’s male characters).

My favorite story of the lot featured one of the least appealing of the young women, yet it resolved into a nice take on the Elizabeth Barrett-Robert Browning romance (featuring a dragon mother rather than Barrett’s dragon father). The reader does not get to see the young woman blossom, but the seed of hope is planted. She has been rescued, though, by her Browning, and it is clear that he is the strong character here, not she.

The tone of the collection is melancholy and wistful with little, if any, resolution. These aren’t fully-wrought stories, but are more like vignettes, and as such may be a bit too elliptical for most tastes. However, taken as a whole, the stories do offer something approaching a motif, if not much in the way of narrative. A line from the last story in the book (oddly enough describing a young man rather than a woman) not only reflects the theme of endings that bookend our lives but also offers a bit of relief from the lassitude that permeates the rest of the stories. . . . .

Those who enjoy elliptical fiction that does not nudge the reader in any particular direction will like this short, easy-to-read collection.


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