Book Review: Half-Lives by Lynn Schmeidler

March 26, 2024

Half-Lives, a collection of stories by Lynn Schmeidler, is a stunning debut by an author who is unafraid to write evocatively, experimentally, and with a raw vulnerability that will inevitably stir contemplation and conversation. Challenging stigmas and the silence which surround issues of women’s autonomy, as well as their mental and physical health, Schmeidler has crafted sixteen stories that speak to the deepest (and at times uncomfortable) truths about what it means to walk through this world as a woman. Utilizing humor and metaphor, these stories will undoubtedly resonate with the countless women who have ever felt judged, abused, misunderstood, or just downright confused by their existence. They also serve as a rallying cry, acknowledging the strength and resilience that women inherently possess and that is theirs to unleash.

Perhaps one of the strongest aspects of these stories is Schmeidler’s willingness to enter into the taboo: sex and sexuality, desire, adultery, rape, old age and a range of other topics. From a woman who “feels too much,” to a woman who lists her vagina on Airbnb, to a retelling of Sleeping Beauty involving a yoga studio, Schmeidler invites readers to intimately connect with and understand her characters in all of their complexity. What this accomplishes is twofold: the stories read as engaging works of art with compelling characters, and the reader leaves transformed by the messages the stories seek to illuminate. Scattered throughout are an infusion of facts, deftly woven into the various narratives in a way that draws the reader back to the realization that while these stories are fictional, their inspiration is not. For example, “a study from UNC-Chapel Hill found human touch is essential to happiness;” “the average woman spend[s] thirty-one years of her life on a diet;” and “women in general received inferior medical care compared to men.” What results is a creative examination of contemporary society in all of its nuance, inequity and absurdity, with particular attention paid to how women are impacted.

One of Schmeidler’s stories that has stuck with me long after I finished the book is “i you she.” The story follows the struggles of an aspiring writer and begins with, “I was told by a bald man with no books left in him, never to write in the second person and also never to write a story about a writer.” Schmeidler goes on to do just the opposite of what this fictional bald man advises—and she does it with style. Each section of the story alternates from first, to second, to third person points of view, masterfully crafting a cohesive narrative that is a direct objection to the academic standards of literary writing. I have never seen something like this done before, and finished the story in awe of Schmeidler’s creative craft and boldness. One of the last lines of the story reads, “You nearly lost your mind, but instead found your creative power.” As a writer, I could relate. I imagine others—regardless of their occupation—will as well.

While each of the stories in Half-Lives are impressive in their own right, it is the thoughtfulness and wisdom that they collectively inspire—delivered with a healthy dose of humor and drama—that truly define this collection. Each story asks powerful questions of the reader, such as: What would it mean to transform our desire for artificial beauty to a desire for a better world? What would it mean to eliminate the shame around women’s sexuality, including the word “vagina”? What is truth and what is fiction, and how is that distinguished in a world of misinformation? These questions don’t just hold relevance for the present moment, but for the ways in which we consider the future and understand our past. What Schmeidler has done in Half-Lives is craft stories that are so quirky and strange, so mesmerizing and compelling, that the people reading them may not even realize the ways in which they are being moved by what she has written. Still, they will finish this collection transformed.

Readers who love the short story collections of Lorrie Moore and Beth Lisick will find Schmeidler’s Half-Lives to be a kindred spirit, a book that can be read over and over again, perpetually prompting laughter, thought and inspiration. To make the human experience personal, accessible and memorable through storytelling is the mark of longevity, and Schmeidler’s Half-Lives will be a staple on many bookshelves for a long time to come.

Publisher: Autumn House Press

Publication date: March 27, 2024

Reviewed by Justine Payton

Justine Payton is an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington where she is a recipient of the Philip Gerard Graduate Fellowship and the Bernice Kert Fellowship in Creative Writing. She has been published or has work forthcoming in the Wild Roof Journal, HerStry, The Corvus Review, The Masters Review, The Keeping Room, andRoi Fainéant Press. She is currently the managing editor of ONLY POEMS as well as an editorial intern for Ecotone Magazine.


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

Follow Us On Social

Masters Review, 2024 © All Rights Reserved