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Useful Gifts: Stories
     

Useful Gifts: Stories

by Carole Glickfeld
 

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Charged with the mystery of childhood, with curiosity and daring, confusion and fear, the eleven interrelated stories in Useful Gifts explore what Ruthie knows. The youngest child of profoundly deaf parents living in Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s, Ruthie Zimmer speaks and signs. Interpreting for her parents, she tries to make sense of worlds as close as

Overview

Charged with the mystery of childhood, with curiosity and daring, confusion and fear, the eleven interrelated stories in Useful Gifts explore what Ruthie knows. The youngest child of profoundly deaf parents living in Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s, Ruthie Zimmer speaks and signs. Interpreting for her parents, she tries to make sense of worlds as close as her family's fourth-floor apartment, as expansive as her rooftop playground and as diverse as the neighborhood below.

The ways of language, its ways, its habits, its humor—as well as the demons that rise within us when we fail to communicate—form an undercurrent in many of Carole Glickfeld's stories. In "What My Mother Knows" Hannah Zimmer gleans the neighborhood gossip from her apartment window, telling Ruthie in a gesture that Mrs. Frangione is pregnant again, and announcing in clipped, terse signs that the O'Briens have divorced. "Know drunk?…Unhappy, fight, wife, divorce." There is, in "My Father's Darling" the hoarse, choked screaming of Albert Zimmer, "Honorfatherhonorfatherhonorfather" striking his daughter Melva has she sinks to the floor muttering "Misermisermisermiser" in the distant, disembodied voice of a ventriloquist. And, in "Talking Mama-Losh'n" there is Sidney, Ruthie's older brother, "getting down to business," sprinkling his speech with Yiddish, French and German—words that project a wisdom and cosmopolitanism he clearly craves.

Three floors below the Zimmer apartment, Ruthie enters the altogether different realm of Dot, a thrice-married hatcheck girl, and her daughter and son, Glory and Roy Rogers. These are characters who, as their names seem to promise, bring adventure and excitement—from acted-out fantasies of Hollywood to gunfights amid the rooftop battlements of "Fort Arden," from impulsive, stylish haircuts to Chinese food with pork. And, across the stoop, Ruthie visits with the Opals family—Iris, Ivy, and Ione—three daughters whose endless lessons in charm, elocution and posture prime them for future "fame and glory."

In Useful Gifts, Carole Glickfeld creates, through the optimistic voice of a young girl, intimacy with the complexity and heartbreak of a world we hope she can survive. In the closing story of the collection, Ruth Zimmer, twenty years older, retraces her neighborhood—not only to preserve her memories but to understand, finally, their effect on her now, a grown woman living three thousand miles away.

Editorial Reviews

Bloomsbury Review

Wonderful sad, funny stories about New York street life and growing up in a handicapped family.

New York Times Book Review

When Ruthie Zimmer translates . . . the world of the deaf is not at all silent; it's bursting with life and conversation.

Voice Literary Supplement

A wonderfully evocative debut collection . . . An understated, pitch-perfect prose style and a view of childhood . . . as dark and comic as it is moving.

7 Days

Deft and darkly funny.

Boston Woman

Ruthie is the kind of direct yet reflective girl who might have emerged from the pages of J.D. Salinger.

From the Publisher

“A wonderfully evocative debut collection . . . An understated, pitch-perfect prose style and a view of childhood . . . as dark and comic as it is moving.”—Voice Literary Supplement

"The world of Ruthie Zimmer, youngest child of Jewish deaf parents, is captured wth aching authenticity. . . . The stories are redolent of a New York neighborhood that once was."—Publishers Weekly

“When Ruthie Zimmer translates . . . the world of the deaf is not at all silent; it's bursting with life and conversation.”—New York Times Book Review

"Glickfield displays a gift for characterization, particularly when describing the abusive, miserly father whom Ruthie can neither love nor abandon. Stylish nostalgia is tempered with humor and hard-boiled realism."—Library Journal

"Ruthie is the kind of direct yet reflective girl who might have emerged from the pages of J.D. Salinger."—Boston Woman

“Wonderful sad, funny stories about New York street life and growing up in a handicapped family.”—Bloomsbury Review

“Deft and darkly funny.”—7 Days

The Bloomsbury Review
Wonderful sad, funny stories about New York street life and growing up in a handicapped family.
Village Voice Literary Supplement
Wonderfully evocative debut collection . . . An understated, pitch-perfect prose style and a view of childhood . . . as dark and comic as it is moving.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this collection of 11 interrelated stories, winner of this year's Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, the world of Ruthie Zimmer, youngest child of Jewish deaf-mute parents, is captured wth aching authenticity. The favorite of her abused housewife-mother, as well as of her tyrannical, philandering father, Ruthie is an exuberant, rollerskating, prepubescent girl when we first meet her, enjoying the close-knit yet multiethnic neighborhood of the Inwood section of Manhattan. We follow her as she becomes an adept interpreter; signing for her parents, coping with her growing awareness of the problems that will eventually lead to their divorce, and to abiding sadness for her older brother and sister. The theme of the final story, longer and reflecting the loss of Ruthie's youthful insouciance and optimism, is one of survival, that of Ruthie and her octogenarian father, locked in their thorny relationship. The stories are redolent of a New York neighborhood that once was. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Set in Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s, the 11 stories in this splendid debut feature Ruthie Zimmer, the youngest child of deaf-mute parents. The first ten stories record the observations of a precocious, prepubescent Ruthie; the longer final one is told by Ruth as a worldly grown-up--unlucky in love and unable to discard the emotional baggage of childhood. Glickfield displays a gift for characterization, particularly when describing the abusive, miserly father whom Ruthie can neither love nor abandon. Stylish nostalgia is tempered with humor and hard-boiled realism in this winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.-- Dean Willms, Fort Collins P.L., Col.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780820310411
Publisher:
University of Georgia Press
Publication date:
04/28/1989
Series:
Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction Series , #81
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.92(d)

Meet the Author

Carole L. Glickfeld, a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), has won numerous awards for her fiction, including the Washington State Book Award for her novel Swimming Toward the Ocean and a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship. Her stories and essays have appeared in literary anthologies and journals including William and Mary Review, Worcester Review, and Crosscurrents. She lives and teaches in Seattle. Read more at www.caroleglickfeld.com.

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