Jean Thompson flies under the radar. I had never heard of her until Do Not Deny Me, a recent collection of short stories that did make a splash, at least in literary circles. But apparently she's been around for a while, writing high-quality short fiction and a few novels.
Reviewers of Do Not Deny Me compared her to Alice Munro, whom I think is brilliant, so I thought I would try these. (I see from a little research that Thompson was a National Book Award finalist in 1999 and has had books on the New York Times Notable Book list. I'm not sure how I missed her.)
Thompson's characters fly under the radar too. A lot of them are folks you might see at the gas station or the grocery store; people you wouldn't notice but who nevertheless have real issues that Thompson explores with care and tenderness. In one story a woman worries that her neighbor's children are being abused. She tries to make contact with the children but is frightened away by their father. Then the family moves away. That's it.
It was so real I felt like I could have been reading a newspaper story; not because Thompson uses a journalistic style but because the events were so mundane yet so universal.
The only problem with this approach is that the details don't stick with me. Like the news I read in the local paper about apartment fires and car accidents, these stories run together in my head, and I can't really remember what happened to which character. That doesn't mean they aren't excellent, and worth reading.