Little Sinners and Other Stories
University of Nebraska Press
Karen Brown

“Passing” is from Karen Brown’s second collection, LITTLE SINNERS AND OTHER STORIES (University of Nebraska Press).   The collection received the 2011 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.  Her first collection of stories, PINS AND NEEDLES, received AWP’s Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2007.  Her work has appeared in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and in the many journals including Epoch, The Georgia Review, and American Short Fiction.


Brown said this about the origin of her story: As a teenager I had a boyfriend whose grandparents and an assortment of cousins all lived on Highland Lake in Winsted, CT. We would drive there to visit, the road winding around the lake, little lights on lakefront houses blinking across the water. On these trips we’d often stop at a cousin’s house, and once, we went out on the lake in a boat, even though it was spring and too early to be out.


This story drew on the memory of circling the lake, the cold boat ride, the lake house with its doilies on chair arms and low ceilings and ancient bric-a-brac. The sense of things remaining unchanged, of items placed on a shelf or in a drawer and never moved, was both comforting and stifling. It was one of the first stories I’d ever written and I was learning as I went along, each day painstakingly rereading what I’d done before and adding one or two paragraphs.  I didn’t know what was going to happen until the narrator opened a dresser drawer and found her old swimsuit.


The sisters, the boyfriend, the missing father, the unstable mother are all inventions—characters who reveal the inconsistency of shared memories, the desire to escape them and the way they, like houses and small towns, often seem to confine us, tricking us into believing escape is necessary, or, ever even possible.

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