Wednesday, March 01, 2006

book 13: Women and Children First by Francine Prose

Short stories are like crack for me when I am stressed. When I am stressed, I often run to and from the toilet in an effort to gain some privacy and get a load off. I run through a collection quickly, especially if the stories are similar. The first few stories in this collection ran through me like prune casserole. The main characters were white women in their early thirties, searching, searching for something to hold their worlds together, usually after the departure (emotional or otherwise) of some boring-ass man. These stories feel a little dated, but in a good way- here is a time past, these are the artifacts. In reality, people still feel adrift, relationships end, but new issues seem to have taken over the public (and female/feminist) conciousness since the mid-80s.

Once I decided to pay some more attention I reread the title story and found some other themes that struck me. "Women and Children First" is about a mother of a young teenaged son, whose father is far away from the country life that he and his mom have. When the main character's friend Gordie tells her about a study on ESP that a sexy man he met is running, Julie jumps at the chance to prove that her connection with her son is real and special, something to be written up in journals, not used as an excuse for divorce or abandonment. What happens next is quiet and pretty cool.

My favorite story in the collection is "Criminals." It is from the POV of a man who is tired of trying to make the world magic. When he gets the chance to amp up the wild, his wife, who is drifting out of their shared past, takes on a dangerous scheme with him. It brings them together for awhile in delicious, Bonnie n Clyde sort of way, but when the husband gets what he wants, he loses that closeness. The ending is sharp and uncomfortable, but very right. I loved it.

I liked Prose's take on personal folklore in "The Bandit Was My Neighbor." Two old women far from italy discuss their wild youth on a park bench in Manhattan. The world screams and puffs by, but they are somewhere else. It made me want to eat and kiss.

One theme that pervades this collection is the substitution of new lust for creative achievement. Many of Prose's characters used to be something, and are now looking for a new path, dragging all the dead weight of realtionships behind them. There is alot of death in here, but only a few instances of mortality. Check it out.

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