In Oth­er Life­times All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me: Stories

  • Review
By – April 24, 2023

Court­ney Sender’s debut short sto­ry col­lec­tion, In Oth­er Life­times All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me, is a unique explo­ration of desire and yearn­ing for the right part­ner and a life of hap­pi­ness. Most of the sto­ries involve either the ghosts of past lovers or cur­rent lovers who are haunt­ed by ghosts of the past. While many of the sto­ries are lyri­cal, sur­re­al, and romance-ori­ent­ed, the most com­pelling sto­ries in the col­lec­tion are those that are nar­ra­tive-dri­ven and full of Jew­ish content. 

The sec­ond short sto­ry, Black Har­ness,” is about lovers Olivia and Gus who go on a tour of a con­cen­tra­tion camp. Upon their arrival, they expe­ri­ence — seem­ing­ly unin­ten­tion­al­ly — the same orga­nized sep­a­ra­tion of peo­ple into two groups: one right, one left. The blood of Olivia’s ances­tors under the earth of this camp haunts her as she simul­ta­ne­ous­ly real­izes that she has begun menstruating. 

In a lat­er sto­ry, To Do with the Body,” men­stru­a­tion becomes the main top­ic when the nar­ra­tor explores the fan­tas­ti­cal Muse­um of Peri­od Clothes” — a muse­um show­cas­ing bloody, peri­od-stained cloth­ing from var­i­ous eras and coun­tries — and is able to cal­cu­late the num­ber of days in her life that she has spent men­stru­at­ing. The char­ac­ters in this sto­ry, Eva and Lily, become friend­ly in the muse­um and enjoy a coex­is­tence rem­i­nis­cent of the rela­tion­ship between the bib­li­cal Eve and Lilith. This humor­ous exhib­it soon becomes dead­ly, remind­ing read­ers of the con­cen­tra­tion camp scene in Black Har­ness.” Then, in anoth­er sto­ry titled The Docent,” instead of being a docent at the Muse­um of Peri­od Clothes, the nar­ra­tor is a pris­on­er in a con­cen­tra­tion camp and receives bread for dis­cussing art­work and giv­ing a tour of the camp. The links between sto­ries are often bizarre and hor­rif­ic at once. 

Lilith is the nar­ra­tor of the sto­ry Lilith in the Hands of God,” where she express­es what real­ly” hap­pened in the Gar­den of Eden between her and Adam and how Eve came to be cre­at­ed. Inter­est­ing­ly, Lilith has the most deci­sive voice in this col­lec­tion. She clear­ly iden­ti­fies moments in her life that led to spe­cif­ic effects and changes in the world, such as Eve’s cre­ation from Adam’s rib and, ulti­mate­ly, these two women becom­ing lovers. 

Oth­er char­ac­ters and motifs recur across the col­lec­tion. Nar­ra­tors often search for lovers and regret not stay­ing with dif­fer­ent lovers from the past. In the title sto­ry, the nar­ra­tor lists qual­i­ties of past lovers and describes what her life would have been like had she stayed in a rela­tion­ship with spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als. And in To Lose Every­thing I Ever Loved” (and else­where in the col­lec­tion), a Holo­caust-sur­viv­ing Nana hov­ers around the speak­er as a ghost­ly pres­ence, encour­ag­ing her to live a good life. Oth­er times, the nar­ra­tor wills Nana to appear when she needs advice. 

After feel­ing beat­en down” and unloved” for too long, the nar­ra­tor in To Lose Every­thing I Ever Loved” con­fides, I remem­ber what my Nana Itta used to say, look­ing at old pho­tographs of the dead in her liv­ing room: Your grand­pa nev­er brought me down, he always brought me up. I want to rise in love, too.” The nar­ra­tors of these sto­ries try to find hap­pi­ness through love but change their minds fre­quent­ly, dis­ap­point­ed as they con­tin­u­ous­ly are. 

Med­i­tat­ing on rela­tion­ship strug­gles, love, lust, and long­ing, these four­teen brief sto­ries will cap­ti­vate the read­er with their many sur­pris­ing twists and hauntings. 

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

Discussion Questions