Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken


The soul is liquid, and slow to evaporate.  The body’s a bucket and liable to slosh.

A 2014 National Book Award finalist, Thunderstruck has certainly earned its place among competing titles.  Comprised of 9 short stories, Elizabeth McCracken’s collection is nothing short of haunting – and I’m not just saying that because we’re getting close to Halloween.  These unforgettable tales are mesmerizing and devastating as McCracken explores aspects of love, grief, family, death, companionship and loneliness.

What begins as a subtle unease slowly transitions into a sharp and brilliant exposure of truth.  Readers may find themselves somewhat uncomfortably bursting with empathy for characters who live for no more than 10 or 20 pages.  That’s how good Elizabeth McCracken is.  You’ll find empathy in an elderly widower, a pizza-stealing teenager, a bored grocery store clerk, a grieving mother and a naive father to name a few.

My favorite in the collection is the title story – an immensely tender tale of family, loyalty, and shattered expectations.  A family travels to Paris with their two children, but when their teenage daughter is involved in a life-changing accident, the repercussions extend well beyond their immediate circumstances.

But to me, the most heartbreaking tale of all is The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston, in which a series of miscommunications overshadow an even darker trauma of a young boy dealing with his mother’s disappearance.  This is where McCracken really shines as an author – she has an indescribable ability to articulate miscommunication and its immediate and delayed consequences.  And of course, these blunders are especially weighty for loved ones, but sometimes, the knowledge of being forever misunderstood by a complete stranger is even more devastating.

Thunderstruck ★★★★½
By Elizabeth McCracken
The Dial Press
240 Pages
ISBN: 9780385335775

About Karli Cude

Karli Cude, previous moderator of Hooked Bookworm, is an avid reader and former bookseller. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in English Literature in 2010 and completed a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences in 2013.