The Sunday Salon~ Mrs. Darcy and the Blue Eyed Stranger

No, this isn’t part of the Jane Austen genre books that have suddenly become so popular -the Mrs. Darcy in question here is one of several interesting southern women featured in this short story collection by Lee Smith.  Ironically, the title story was the only one in the book that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

I hadn’t picked up a short story collection in quite a while, but since this is short story month, it seemed timely.  I’m glad I did – I sped through these stories like a demon, each one like a delicious petit four or finger sandwich with a just a hint of spice.  I especially loved Tongues of Fire, the story of 13 year old Karen, her father’s nervous breakdown and the way her family (in their purely simple Southern gentility) tried to ignore it.  “I rarely saw anybody in my family, or so I felt.  I floated through it all like a dandelion puff on the air, like a wisp of smoke, a ghost.  During the year of my father’s nervous breakdown, I became invisible in my family…Perhaps it is not surprising that I turned to God.” 

Invisibility and powerlessness runs through many of these stories.  There’s Alice Scully, nursing home resident and reluctant member of The Happy Memories Club, a writing group that rejects Alice and her honest reminiscences about painful times in her life because they are  determined to “restrict their subject matter to what everyone enjoys.”  There are women left behind by their husbands, women misunderstood by their children, women facing the shrinkage that come with age.  

But don’t be deceived – there is not a “downer” among these stories because all of these women – with a quiet strength and again, in a style I find distinctively Southern -finds a way to regain some power over their own lives.  Plus, Smith delivers every tale with a good dose of humor to sweeten the darkness.  “If you’re going to deal with real, actual pain,” Smith once said in an interview, “you can’t bear it unless you have humor involved as well. It’s a way of making it through your life.”

As I devoured these delectable morsels of tales, I got to wondering whether I’d read any of Smith’s novels (for which she’s probably best known), and realized I had not.  A library trek to rectify that situation is definitely in order.

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8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon~ Mrs. Darcy and the Blue Eyed Stranger

  1. For whatever reason, I find that I rarely choose a short story collection, and, oddly, when I do I always love the short stories better than a novel. Disconcertingly strange behavior.

  2. Try as I might, I cannot turn myself into a short story reader. Intellectually I know just how difficult a genre this is to work in and what tremendous crafting has to go into each tiny piece, when any false step will shine out in what may be no more than half a dozen pages, but nevertheless, I like to be engaged with something longer. These sound really interesting and if I can find a copy in the UK then I would definitely try them but I wouldn’t hold out much hope of finishing them. Maybe I am a victim of my own self-fulfilling prophecy.

  3. Love that cover! I definitely thought it was some sort of Austenesque book, too, until I started reading your review. 🙂 I haven’t had much experience with short story collections outside of high school/college, but sounds like there’s plenty to enjoy here. Thanks for the introduction!

  4. This collection sounds wonderful! I once started Smith’s novel Fair and Tender Ladies, but had trouble with the dialect and put it aside before really giving it a fair chance.

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