Saturday, August 13, 2011
High Tea and Rural Noir- Short Stories by Margaret Drabble and Bonnie Jo Campbell
A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, Margaret Drabble, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
The short stories collected in A Day in the Life of A Smiling Woman have been assembled from over the course of the author's writing life, beginning in the 1960's. (Drabble is known best for her novels, which I sadly confess I have not read.... yet.) The stories are very internal, very intelligent, and very elaborate explorations of inner emotional mood and crisis - and thus also sometimes rather intense. All of them were well written, though (and perhaps this is a danger when writing stories that are so internal) some left me caring more than others. My favorites included "The Gifts of War", a very moving story in which idealistic young students challenge a working class mother's purchase of a war toy for her son, and "A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman," in which a woman, facing both the more usual kinds of challenges (unsupportive husband, career, motherhood) and what is a surely a devastating health condition (and resulting inner panic), presses on, maintaining appearances. As a mother, both these stories touched me deeply, the latter in a very visceral way.
American Salvage, stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Wayne State University Press, 2009
There is nothing like having a brand new, complete rave of a novel come out to motivate a reader to catch up on the author's last work that's been sitting and waiting on the to-read list. For me, that work was Bonnie Jo Cambell's short story collection American Salvage (her new novel Once Upon a River has just been released to some breathtaking reviews).
I believe I have heard (seen in a tweet?) Campbell refer to her stories as "rural noir," and that seems to be a fitting description. Her stories are about average, working folks scraping to get by, both emotionally and economically. If you are looking for uplifting, you will need to look elsewhere: her characters are surrounded by poverty, violence, and a very discouraging amount of meth abuse. While I thought all the stories were well worth reading, some are more tautly written than others, some are more emotionally compelling than others. There were a few powerful stories such as "The Solution to Brian's Problem" and "Family Reunion" that really stood out for me as both; others had a quieter, less defined impact. They all linger with me, and I am eagerly awaiting my copy of Once Upon a River.
By the way, LitStack had a fantastic second week! Lots of wonderful reviews and other bookish news (my reviews this week include Steve Himmer's the bee-loud glade and highlights from Shelf Unbound magazine but there are many other excellent articles)- if you haven't been over to visit yet, please check it out!