Books by Mississippi Writers 1996-2010
Short stories by Ellen Gilchrist Little, Brown, & Company (Hardcover, $24.00, ISBN: 0316314862, 9/1998) Gilchrist rounds up the usual suspects "and a few newcomers" in an uneven but always readable eighth collection. Yes, Rhoda, many of the other Mannings, and their various cousins are back: since In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), they have provided Gilchrist with a convenient, semi-autobiographical framework through which to explore both the madness of family ties and the violent yet homey atmosphere of the American South. But a number of new, generally younger characters give the collection this time a shot in the arm: Gilchrist displays a nice grasp of the apprehensive yet anticipatory, all-possibilities-are-open attitude of young adults in "Excitement at Drake Field," "The Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor," and a series of stories about teenager Aurora Harris, though she can't resist immersing these people too in intricate family and social networks. (Southerners like Gilchrist, it seems, don't do alienation "just the mingled security and oppression of an omnipresent support/undermine system.") The author's political opinions, more openly displayed than usual, also give bite to some lazy writing. Gilchrist slings adjectives with abandon ("fine young smooth thick golden beloved skin"), and the impact of a tough, uncompromising lie about Aurora's decision to have an abortion ("The Triumph of Reason") is blunted "for the attentive reader" by the fact that the subsequent linked story is dated three months earlier in 1997 but, by internal evidence, takes place ten months later. Too bad, because "Have a Wonderful Nice Walk" has some delicious humor and a vintage Gilchrist line: "Well, that's the past and the past is a swamp where we wander at our peril." Nonetheless, her characters wander there frequently, and for the most part we're glad they do. Gilchrist has always excelled in delineating smart, sexy, crazy people struggling to come to terms with a legacy of beloved, bewildering progenitors. A mixed bag, but Gilchrist's emotional candor and gift for storytelling make it appealing. ―Copyright © 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.