A witty and soulful trio of novellas by master storyteller Gurganus (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, 1989, etc.), who claims his place here as the laureate of the Southern cul-de-sac.
Falls, North Carolina—the setting of Widow, and a significant place in other moments of Gurganian geography—is hicksville turned gated suburb, the milieu of sometimes haunted, often dissatisfied souls with secrets to keep. Some of them, nestled among the dogwoods and carefully clipped yards, have seen more than they should. Some have found redemption of a kind, as with the protagonist of a story nested within a story in the opening piece, “Fear Not,” in which the gentle daughter of a local worthy learns of the son that she had to give up for adoption after having been raped by her godfather. She knew nothing about the child, “one taken without her even discovering its sex,” but now, years later, she knows something of life—and all that is packed within just the first “act,” as Gurganus calls it. Gurganus manages the neat hat trick of blending the stuff of everyday life with Faulkner-ian gothic and Chekhov-ian soul-searching, all told in assured language that resounds, throughout all three novellas, in artfully placed sententiae: “Some people’s futures look so smooth, only sadists would bother delivering even temporary setbacks.” “I soon learned: journalism and motherhood are two fields jet-fueled by frequent triage caffeine blasts.” This being the South, the Civil War figures in sometimes odd ways, from a subject of fiction to a matter of quotidian life; in the second novella, indeed, it’s recapitulated in the struggle between exes on opposite coasts. Race figures, too, as Gurganus writes of the well-heeled duffers of Falls’s premier country club as having “secret kinsmen hidden one or two counties away,” a case in point, in a fine “Rose for Emily” moment, being a “clay-colored” man who now stands among them. Whatever their subject, and told from widely different points of voice, male and female, young and old, the novellas have a conversational tone and easy manner that are testimony to the author’s craftsmanship.
A gem, like Gurganus’ predecessor collection of novellas, The Practical Heart (2002). Readers will eagerly await the next news out of Falls.