Every Kiss A War, A Review (sort of) by Loran Smith

LWS(Photo of the author as a young man, 1995. The year he and Leesa decided to give this love forever thing a go.)

I should start by telling you that I’m not a writer, so forgive me in advance for that. You probably already know this because you’ve never read anything I’ve written - ok, maybe that one thing Leesa and I wrote together, which I’ll admit was pretty good, but I had some help. All this to say that as I’m writing this I’m probably skipping words and droning on and misspelling things and adding too, many, commas, and jumping between tenses and all those things you real writers will notice and hate. So please don’t judge me by your lofty literary standards. My point is - I skipped right past this in my rambling above - I’m glad I’m not a writer because I’d have to compete with Leesa, and that would be tough - tough for my ego and tough for my writing career, if I were to have one, that is. You get my point - I am not a writer, Leesa is, and she wrote a book called EVERY KISS A WAR.

All this being said I am a reader. I love to read. I read your stories. I read the books I was supposed to read in high school and college and I enjoy them immensely. I joke that I really only enjoy reading things that are 100 years old or more - that’s not completely true, but it’s close. For example, I recently read War and Peace, I couldn’t put it down. Even more recently I read Every Kiss A War - I’m supposed to be talking about that now, but I’m not there yet. Back to those titles - the similarity - WAR AND PEACE. EVERY KISS A WAR. Hmmm, that’s pretty cool, not just the stark beauty of those words-strung-together, but the feelings they convey. That tension.

According to Leesa I’ve read just about everything she’s written, published or not. First drafts written on our old Compaq that would restart when the phone on the wall rang, poems written and workshopped in Skinner’s creative writing class and published in 90’s lit zines (print only - there was no online!), her debut book cut in anticipation from the box just delivered. All of it. I’ve even read her 2nd grade young authors’ story about 2 skunks - and yes, it was good - maybe she’ll let you read it one day. The reason I bring it up is because I consider myself a Leesa Cross-Smith scholar, in a way. I hope to someday be featured on a PBS documentary or something where I talk about the origins of her writing and show everyone how really smart and well read I am in all things Leesa.

Back to the Point/On Reading Every Kiss A War

Honestly I’m not really going to review-review this book, let’s get real. But I want to talk about what I feel when I read the stories in Every Kiss A War and see if you get that same thing from them, pick up on that same emotion, the same tension. When I read these stories I get that feeling, that tension in the words themselves that I talked about before - that WAR and that PEACE and that KISS all at the same time. There’s love and there’s sex and there’s conflict and redemption, and it all just feels so real. Not the everyday reality you live, but the reality of those memories you relive when you look back, romanticized visions of reality, nostalgia of places you’ve been or things you’ve done that at the time seemed good but, looking back, feel life-defining. These stories capture that remembered first kiss or first love or first fight when your nerves were tender but electrified even at despair but there’s always tomorrow and that hope and that hope and that promise of a new day and with it new emotion to experience.

It’s different for me - reading these stories and knowing the author, and her life, intimately. But when I started to see the impact of her stories, that other people were connecting with them, that they were more universal than what I was feeling or reading - that was what really convinced me of how talented Leesa is and how accessible her writing is and how real and light these stories are. That tension, that WAR in every KISS, is a real thing. I’ve felt that in life, I’ve felt that with Leesa in our life together. And that’s what it’s all about, really. What we’re all searching for - that feeling of being alive. To read that on a page and feel a familiarity and realize that something in that emotion or experience is universal, that is what a book or story should do. That is what Every Kiss A War does for me, and I suspect it will do that for you, as well.

One of the beautiful and sometimes jarring things I think you get from reading this book is the sense of stories and characters being very real, palpable, tangible - as if Leesa is just a really good storyteller recounting events that happened just the other day or a few weeks ago. So, while you know these stories are fictional, you start to get the idea that at the core are threads that have unraveled from experiences or events or phrases or movements, and have now been woven into other things, very new and different things. It’s as if your favorite shirt unraveled but you saved the threads and later some ancient loom maiden re-wove them into a tapestry of your life, some parts real and some parts fictional. In it you see your high school experience, but you also see yourself fighting a dragon. Some parts fact, some parts fiction. But you’re unable to separate the two - it’s just one beautiful painful image hanging on the wall. Remember, I’m not a writer, so forgive the awkward imagery here.

Anyway I’ve known and loved Leesa for so long that I can often pick out the details and threads that are real, but how she birthed this book and these stories from those amazes me every time I turn the page. I could point out the fragments that are real, but I won’t - it’s good for you to keep guessing at those as you take in the tapestry of this book. I know you’re looking for them as you read, trying to pick out the real from the imagined. Remember - I know how you writers think, I am not one but I live with one. I live in PEACE and I KISS and I WAR with a writer EVERY day, and she’s the real deal. Here’s the proof: EVERY KISS A WAR.