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.