Thursday, July 06, 2006

Rhoda: A Life in Stories by Ellen Gilchrist

Here's why I picked this up: because of my new-found interest in short stories, which has led me to some wonderful discoveries this year. I read one other book by Ellen Gilchrist, years ago, and remember liking it, but then refused to read more of her work because, in addition to my anti-short-story mood, I also was going through a no-Southern- fiction mood (which hasn't entirely gone away).

This book gathers together in one volume every one of Gilchrist's stories about Rhoda Manning. Rhoda appears and reappears in nearly every one of Gilchrist's short story collections, written over a long career; thus Gilchrist has been writing about Rhoda for many years. Interestingly, Rhoda doesn't always seem like the same character from story to story, and Gilchrist gets her details wrong sometimes (did she marry at 19? 20? 21?). Rhoda ages in these stories from about 11 to about 60. The stories set in the South in the 1940's during Rhoda's childhood are the best, and these take up a good two thirds of the book. The remaining stories about Rhoda's self-indulgent adulthood are dull and depressing.

This would have been a better book if Gilchrist had just taken the framework of Rhoda's life that she had already established, and written a cohesive novel around these events. Instead what we get is a story that never really gets going, and a kind of jerky camera view, where we linger for ages on Rhoda's childhood and adolescence, then hurtle ahead fifteen years, then another ten years (for example) with no intervening information. But I do have to say that the first story, Revenge, was really really brilliant.

(Book 29, 2006)


Anonymous said...

if your're into short stories, you may be into new novel, Waking up at Broomie's, by gary nelson. the story is told through connected shorts - delivered through the interactions of four main characters. i've heard it described as great "guy lit," whatever that means... makes for an excellent summer read.

Anonymous said...

Come to Me, by Amy Bloom, made me like short stories. I loved it.

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