Read Alert: Conjugations of the Verb To Be

Glen Chamberlain’s collection of stories, Conjugations of the Verb To Be, is quite possibly the most depressing bit of prose I’ve ever encountered. The grueling 11-story collection is wrought with death, unfulfilled dreams, loneliness, and betrayal. And that in 193 pages the author could not muster one word of positivity is even more depressing than the stories standing alone.

Aside from being dragged through the worst of humanity, I found this composition bogged down and pretentious. Chamberlain is an author who cannot use a noun without an adjective; and once adopting a phrase she obviously liked, it seemed to pop-up repeatedly throughout the book.

Perhaps the only saving grace is the setting for each story: Buckle, Montana. Though portrayed in a depressing light itself at times, in the midst of sadness and one too many descriptive words, Chamberlain did at least convey the breathtaking landscape native to Montana. That alone grants one sense of peace in the midst of such a traumatic series.

When I read, it is for pleasure and for escape–not to be tossed into the throws of life at its worst. I absolutely do not recommend Conjugations of the Verb To Be–unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

    1. Really appreciate the opinion, Sarah! What did you like about the book? I’d love some perspective on what I’m missing, because I know others liked it as well.

  1. Here is what Jackie Blem, reviewer extraordinaire at The Tattered Cover, had to say about the book (11-27-2011):

    This is a wondrous collection of short stories, all but one about
    women, rural women for the most part, who are living life as best they can, with their quiet hopes and their everyday realities that make
    dreams difficult. They are all interconnected, occasionally you’ll
    see a character walk through, someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, that
    you’ve seen before. Perhaps a week ago, or perhaps a generation or
    two ago. There is a lot of living, loving, anger, regret, birth,
    death and just general life moving on with these characters watching
    it, or participating in it, or hiding from it. Chamberlain builds
    characters with sublime subtlety and hard-edged grace that makes you
    sit for a bit, after each story, peeling the layers and giving more
    thought to what you have been shown. This is a very impressive
    collection, and I highly recommend it.

    (And for more thoughtful insights, read the reviews on

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