Title: Finding the Bones by Nikki Kallio
Genre: Short story collection, 174 pages
Publication Date: February 2023, Cornerstone Press, Stevens Point, WI
Review by: Victoria Lynn Smith
Open Finding the Bones by Nikki Kallio and buckle up because you’re in for a spellbinding, scary, stomach-dropping, heart-in-your-throat roller coaster ride through nine short stories and a novella, some written in the genres of science fiction, gothic, and speculative. I read Kallio’s page-turning collection in one day.
But ride that roller coaster in slow motion because Kallio’s stories are written with a wonderful literary flare, breaking the boundaries of genre labels. So read deeply and slowly, savor Kallio’s use of language. Study her characters, listen to their conversations, and read their thoughts. Look around at the worlds her characters inhabit, yet find yourself reminded of your own familiar world.
Some of Kallio’s stories launch us into other worlds: outer space, a haunted house, and an Earth where the sun is dangerous. Others are set in the ordinary homes of ordinary people who face extraordinary events. Her stories explore themes of death, isolation, aging, belonging, trauma, and displacement. And while Kallio’s stories transported me far away from my living room couch, they also connected me to what it means to be human during times of tragedy, mental health issues, or environmental devastation.
For example, “Shadow” and “Disappearing” explore grief and loss from different angles, helping readers understand that grief is a deep and complex emotion. “Disappearing,” one of my favorite stories, explores loss from a child’s viewpoint after his mother has gone missing, disrupting the notion that children don’t experience grief like adults do.
In “Geography Lessons” a father and daughter are traveling through space to another planet because Earth has been destroyed, but only a fraction of the population is chosen for the trip. As the former earthlings hurtled through space, I thought about migrants in our world who leave their homes because they are no longer safe, bringing with them only memories and perhaps a few trinkets. Family ties are broken, cultural heritage is fractured, and children drift between two worlds.
Kallio’s collection of short stories ends with The Fledgling, an eighty-three-page novella. It’s a powerful, tightly woven dystopian story with richly drawn characters navigating life on Earth after exposure to the sun becomes dangerous. Her novella is the pitch-perfect crescendo to the end of an amazing collection of stories.
Kallio’s stories entertain, but she also creates empathy for characters and in turn her characters enhance our ability to understand our fellow human beings. Years ago I was told that short stories are meant to be read more than once, and Kallio’s collection invites us to visit again.
Reviewer Victoria Lynn Smith writes short stories and essays. In 2022, her short story "Maginot Line," won second place in the Hal Prize Contest for fiction. She has been published by Brevity Blog, Wisconsin Public Radio, Hive Literary Journal, Persimmon Tree, Jenny, 45th Parallel, Mason Street Review, and Rathalla Review. In 2022, she earned an honorable mention for nonfiction in the Jade Ring writing contest. She's working on a collection of short stories, and she enjoys writing her blog. She is a member of Wisconsin Writers, Lake Superior Writers, Red Oak Writing, and Write On, Door County.