As I read my way through the stories in Nothing Without Us, I kept coming across a sense of tone, or an angle of perception that left me smiling, even when the topics of a particular tale weren’t uplifting, and it took me a while to get why it was happening: they were inhabited by the characters, rather than situations happening to characters intended to invoke pathos or—God forbid—to inspire.
“Dress Rehearsal” is a perfect example of this: Lizzie is visiting, and her sister wants her to visit their mother in the hospital before she goes home. There’s an underlying “before it’s too late” in there, and it soon becomes clear what’s going on: Lizzie’s mom has a disease for which the treatment often leads to cancer, and Lizzie has the same disease. Her sister does not. Her mother is in the hospital, time is limited, and Lizzie has only a certain number of days to drop by, but… hasn’t yet.
In the hands of a different author, it would be all to easy to read Lizzie as afraid, or neglectful, or the whole tale to come off supersaturated with sadness. Instead, Lizzie simply is, and she navigates this complex series of moments—her mother’s illness and how she is likely to share the same fate—alongside a new fling and a few interactions with her sister. And in the end, as the tale draws to a close, it struck me once again the character in this story, like in so many of the stories in this anthology, is navigating their life with a healthy dose of snark, found joys, and quiet moments to gather strength when they need it.