Sixteen strange stories explore the human need for connection.
The Loneliness Café is a collection of sixteen short stories that sit together within the pages like a family—all of them share some similarities that make the pages flow, but each is clear and distinct from the rest. Throughout the collection, from “Eddie and Larry and Phil,” a story about a man forming a bond between himself and a pair of curious rats, to “December Frost,” a story revolving around the loneliness that arises in a man when his wife leaves him, Dokey’s stories have a strangeness that draws the reader in and a candor that keeps the pages turning.
One of the highlights of the collection is “Accidents Happen,” a story revolving around a woman’s decision of what to do with her unborn child. The protagonist is at a loss of what to do with herself, let alone the child, perfectly captured when she says to her friend, “Everything’s all so confused. I’m confused.” The story contains vivid imagery and an equally vivid relationship between women. Dokey also captures a wonderful, if small, portrait of self-discovery as the protagonist determines how she feels about her possible futures.
Another story of note, which feels like it best captures the theme of the collection, is the first in the book. While “Eddie and Larry and Phil” is perhaps the strangest of the stories as it follows a man who becomes obsessed with caring for two feral rats, it also captures the desperation for companionship that echoes throughout the collection. As the title suggests, the main character attempts to alleviate his loneliness by personifying the rats that he cares for, and when they fail to meet his expectations, it becomes only too evident what he really wanted from them.
Dokey’s stories explore desire and the human need for relationships, such as in “Eddie and Larry and Phil” in which the main character wants to have a human connection with the rats because he has no one else. In the titular story, “The Loneliness Café,” a widower and a widow meet in a store café late one evening, and when she mentions that she tried to speak to another customer who seemed to ignore her, his response is that, “Nobody’s home.… You take the faces of the people and the few things you buy home with you. You feel a little better when you go to bed.” For both stories, the need for a connection is clear, even if it’s a false one that only satisfies for a little while.
Overall, The Loneliness Café is a compelling collection of stories full of everyday people that, regardless of their situation, appeal to the reader. Richard Dokey uses a careful voice to reflect the inner workings of the characters and writes with a vivid candor that swallows the reader into the very heart of the stories. Every one of the characters and places feels real, which will leave the reader thinking about these stories long after turning the last page.
Amy Lehigh is a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and junior at Lake Superior State University majoring in Creative Writing and Liberal Arts to make editing her career. While most of her interest revolves around reading or writing, she’s also an avid fisher and, when Michigan weather allows, a swimmer.