The Elegant Gathering of White Snows

The Elegant Gathering of White Snows

by Kris Radish

Paperback(Reissue)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553382419
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/10/2003
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 250,775
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Kris Radish is the author of seven books. Her Bantam novels, The Elegant Gathering of White Snows, Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, The Sunday List of Dreams, and Searching for Paradise in Parker, PA, have been on bestseller and Book Sense 76 Selection lists.

She travels frequently throughout the country speaking about women’s issues, the value of female friendships, and the importance of personal empowerment, as well as the necessity for laughter, a terrific glass of wine, lying quietly in the summer grass, embracing kindness, following the path in your own heart and no one else’s, and having fun at almost all costs.

Kris lives in Wisconsin with her partner. She is joined occasionally by a college-age son and daughter—who appear when it’s time to wash clothes or eat a regular meal—and is happily cruising through life on her Yamaha 1200 Classic VStar, her Trek bicycle, a treadmill, a pair of orange-laced walking shoes, and with gallons of calcium and about a hundred notebooks for her novel, short-story, poetry, and journalism ideas.

She is also working on her sixth novel, The Shortest Distance Between Two Women, which Bantam will publish in 2009.

Hometown:

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Date of Birth:

September 18, 1953

Place of Birth:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Education:

B.A., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1975

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Just a glass. Balanced for a moment as brief as a breath. Like a confused dancer undecided about a direction here on the edge of the ancient yellow Formica counter. A speck of light filters through the crystal etchings on this last, best glass, one of three remaining after years and years of life following the goddamned wedding.

Susan watches the glass, her hand stretched out in a flat welcome, her stomach moving in waves as the glass falls and Susan, always anticipating the next movement of everything, moves with it.

"Shit!" She screams as the glass punches through the soft skin in the folds of her fingers. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" The blood gushes, covering the spot where she used to wear a ring and then down onto wrists that are as thin as the stem of the broken glass. Before a drop of blood hits the floor, before Susan can raise her hand, before a thought can form, the women come running.

There is a concert of unrehearsed movement on the kitchen floor. Alice runs for the dishcloth; Chris is on the floor cradling Susan in her arms; Sandy is looking to make certain the good bottle of wine has not spilled. Joanne and Janice are crouched like frogs close by, their hands dangling between their legs; Gail guards the small door between the kitchen and the living room, and Mary is poised to grab more towels and maybe, if the cuts are deep enough, those big bandages she knows Susan keeps on the shelf behind the kitchen sink.

"Is it deep?" Chris asks, extending her fingers around the tiny bloody wrist where a red-colored stream begins moving over her own fingers.

Everyone waits. There is a silence that reaches toward Susan, who answers by pushing herself into Chris's chest, bending her head so she can lie against her friend. Then there is the unspoken gesture of Alice slipping the stained dishcloth into Chris's free hand, and Chris placing it around the bloody wrist once and then twice like she is wrapping a holiday gift.

"Hey," Susan stutters, a whimper visibly rising from her stomach through her chest and toward any opening it can find. "I'm fucking pregnant, fucking, fucking pregnant."

There it is, suddenly as plain as the long splinters of glass. Forget the blood, forget the crystal glass, forget every damn thing. Everyone moves closer, except Sandy who reaches for the bottle of wine, grabs the plastic cups off the side of the table and then sets them down in a circle around the bottle of wine.

"Oh honey," Alice says, reaching without thinking to run her fingers, already bent with arthritis, into the edges of Susan's incredibly short hair. "It's okay, sweetie, we're here now, we're here."

Susan weeps into Chris as if she is a giant Kleenex and although Chris has never rocked her own babies, she rocks Susan. Back and forth, back and forth, while the other women slide closer, reaching first for a glass of wine until the eight women are touching, breathing, drinking, sitting in a mass that has quickly surrounded Susan and Chris.

"How pregnant?" asks Gail.

"Just barely," whispers Susan. "I found out yesterday."

"I take it this isn't the best news you ever had?" Chris already knows the answer. "Oh, you poor, poor girl."

Everyone knows right away. They know without Susan saying a thing, without looking into anyone else's eyes, without a single movement in the room. Susan knows they know. These women have seen the lining of her soul, the secrets of her heart, the insides of her mistakes and faults. When they walked into her house thirty minutes ago under the pretense of one of their charmed female gatherings and saw the circles under her darting eyes, saw her hair matted to one side, saw the newspapers stacked on the living room table, saw only one car in the driveway, they knew.

"It's not John's baby. Oh Christ, it's not John's baby."

While it is impossible for the women to sit any closer to each other, they quickly try, tucking under legs, clasping their plastic cups, scooting sideways, brushing shoulders and pushing their rear ends just another inch closer to Susan and Chris.

"Does John know?" Mary asks quietly, knowing already that the one thing John is ever in and out of is a hell of a lot of trouble, and definitely not a wife he most likely hasn't had sex with in twenty years.

"I don't even know where John is," Susan answers. "A clinic in Milwaukee knows, but that's it. John hasn't been here for a long time. He's gone, he's always gone, he's always been gone."

Now there are a thousand things to say and the women are restless, tapping the plastic cups with nervous fingers, holding back questions, wanting to skip over the obvious and find a solution, solve a problem, help their friend, a woman they love. But they wait, because they know this has to happen slowly, and they want it to be perfect and right and cautious, just a little bit cautious, because Susan has never been like this, and it's important, so important.

"Let's pull the glass out of that hand before we go any further," Alice says. "Here, just open your fingers, and let me clean this up."

Alice, with her bent fingers, is the one who knows about babies born and unborn, alive and dead, and when she touches Susan, picking the little shards of glass out one at a time and dropping them into Janice's outstretched hand, she tries hard to think only of that. "There now. We'll just put a few Band-Aids on those fingers, and I think you'll be fine."

The Band-Aids are passed over, more wine is poured, and Sandy and Mary quickly pick up the remains of the glass and drop the pieces onto the shelf where Susan keeps her recipe boxes and cookbooks.

Susan shifts, turning to face the women who surround her, but Chris won't let go of her and pushes in her legs to hold the tiny woman against the full frame of her body. The women talk then, the same easy conversation they might have had in the living room, without a broken glass, where Susan would have eventually told them in greater detail about the boyfriend who has been standing in the wings for years, more—always more—about John, the missing husband, about the risks of a baby when you are past forty and tired and angry and sad and don't want any more babies anyway.

Another bottle of wine comes off the top of the counter, and this sad circle of friends becomes lost in remembering and talking and simply being there together on Susan's kitchen floor. An hour passes, and the voices rise and fall and rise and fall like a wave moving from one wall to the next and then back again.

The women talk about abortion, and they talk about what bastards half of the men they have married and loved and slept with are and always will be. There is a chorus of sorrow that floats from one woman to the next, and these women who have spent time together for years and shared their loves and who have talked about lust and hate and crime and passion don't see that the early evening has passed, and that there is a half moon rising outside of the high kitchen window.

They talk with great sincerity and kindness about helping Susan and driving her to the clinic and helping her to get that damn attorney to file the divorce papers and getting off the fence with the jackass she's been screwing for twelve years. The women talk about these things mostly without anger, but that rises from them too, in an unseen layer of life's tragedies and sorrows that always seems to hover close.

As the women talk, they don't see themselves as separate entities even though they are each as different from one another as the proverbial fish is to the bicycle. They are grandmothers and career women, housewives, a secretary. They are divorced, married, grieving, wildly happy, conservative, liberal and a combination of every sad tale in the universe. But those differences are overshadowed by the fact that they are all women and friends, and because they have shared their secrets and because now they are lying on the floor in Susan's kitchen and they have made the world stand still.

When their words begin to slide into each other after the fourth bottle of wine, Sandy decides they must eat. No one rises from the floor though, and the time or the place doesn't seem to matter. It becomes clear first to one and then to the next that they matter, just them, and nothing else matters for these hours, not another person or thing or problem.

"Well," Sandy finally says, "I'm just thinking, 'Thank God that Susan threw that glass on the floor.' I haven't done anything like this since the last time I got stoned in college."

"Oh, Sandy," laughs Chris, leaning back to shift her weight, "the last time you got stoned was probably this afternoon. Isn't this the day that kid drives through from Madison?"

No one looks shocked or stunned, especially because it is Sandy who has always had a hard time remembering it is no longer 1968, and they are once again and always talking about the unspeakable, about what really happens in a life, about what really matters most. There is shifting, the flush of a toilet, bowls of red Jell-O and a tuna salad, and chips and salsa, and whatever else Sandy can reach by crawling to the refrigerator and then shoving the plastic containers across the ten feet of space from the open fridge door to the pile of women on the floor.

Something else is happening during the sharing of food. There is the flow of erotic energy that has the scent of people in love in those first months when there are hours of talk and always a communication with bodies and eyes. Women especially know about this phenomenon. Women who cling to each other and who flock to female friends and say everything and anything with such ease it is often embarrassing to watch. It is like the magic moment of discovery when something finally makes sense, when someone finally says the right thing, when the pieces of life finally flow in the correct line. It is bright and sexual and the release of a thousand demons when a simple idea begins to grow until nothing can stop it, and then something that just an hour ago was unbelievable and unthinkable makes perfect sense.

Chris gets the idea first, and it comes to her just as quick as every other wonderful thought that has helped her escape death a hundred times and tackle life in every conceivable fashion. The idea is hers because she has missed this the most, this love affair women can have with each other. These hours where women talk and hold each other and pass on whatever bits of courage they need to get on with it; the times when they can become emotionally naked and turn themselves inside out and continue to love what they see anyway; and a moment just now, when you can tell someone you are pregnant and don't want the baby and hate your life and your husband and the man who made this baby with you and "could you please, right now, tell me what in the hell I am going to do about this mess of my life?"

The others, often sidetracked by the very things that they now discuss, have missed it too. It has come to them sporadically in their lives, and not often enough because there is never enough time. Luckily, during these last months these women together have become an electric charge. There is a current of life running among them, and somehow a spark of magic has risen up and the women have become powerful and invincible and now they can do anything they want.

"What time is it?" Chris begins, and the question startles everyone because they don't care what time it is and they think with great joy that they may never care again.

"Geez," Janice says, rolling over on top of a pile of potato chips, "it's probably late, but screw it, let's just stay up all night and have a slumber party."

Mary rolls toward her with outstretched arms. "Let's make it a party that lasts ten years, and we'll just live on the floor and eat and drink and talk and never let anyone else in the house."

"Oh God," remembers Joanne, moaning as if she has just had an incredibly personal physical experience. "Once when I was living in Chicago, I did that for three days but it wasn't with a room full of middle-aged women."

Everybody smiles and Chris knows that her simple question, like the broken glass, has changed everything. She smiles. "Quick, tell me something you have always wanted to do but never did, everybody think of something, just tell us all whatever pops into your mind."

Everyone begins dreaming. The women slide around on the floor, roll their eyes, and their thoughts come to a mutual conclusion. In unison they dream of leaving. Simply walking out the door and moving on from something or someone. The magic of friendship has spoken to each one of them so they are dreaming the same dream.

Chris says what will happen next is just for them and absolutely no one else. "No one," she emphasizes with a half scream, because she has done this in her life a thousand times and she knows that to do it, even once, is necessary for survival, for change, for forgetting and moving on. To do it together would be a miraculous occurrence.

"We could do it, you know," she tells them, becoming the teacher they are waiting for. "None of us have babies, hell, half of us don't even have a uterus anymore. Imagine it, just imagine it and don't think about anyone else but yourself. That's the secret here."

The women are thinking and Chris urges them on. She reminds them of the months and months they have tried to talk away everything from menopause to rape. She tells them that sometimes a simple movement, a simple act, can be more therapeutic than a million meetings around a living room coffee table listening to old records from the '60s and drinking wine that isn't quite as good as you'd like it to be.

"Are you trying to convince yourself too?" Sandy asks her, leaning across a set of legs to bring herself closer to Chris. "Where are your demons, dear friend? You've been everywhere and done everything. We have to be in this together."

Chris is the only one who has never cried during all these months of meetings and shared secrets, and when Sandy sees that her question has made Chris weep, she is momentarily startled. When she reaches beyond Susan to wipe Chris's cheek, she doesn't say anything else but waits. Everyone waits.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. We hope they will enrich your experience of this inspiring novel.

1. What is the source of healing among the Elegant Gathering women? Why is it so essential for them to gather without men present? What are some of the distinctions you perceive between all-male gatherings and all-female ones?

2. Why do you suppose the eight women chose to take a walk—an active, visible pursuit—rather than go on retreat? Where would you go if you decided to embark on a spontaneous pilgrimage

3. The primary source of Alice’s sorrow is the death of her newborn daughter, who was born with “a hole in her heart.” What prevents Alice from fully coping with the subsequent emptiness in her own heart?

4. Does J.J.’s experience represent a shift in attitudes regarding sexual violence against women? Do you think J.J. would have fared better in one of today’s high schools?

5. What does Chris’s career crisis illustrate about the contradictions experienced by women who joined the ranks of wage earners during the 1970s?

6. Sandy’s story illustrates the bliss of love and the bitter pain of loss. Besides introducing her to Lenny, what gifts does this walk bring to Sandy?

7. Gail carries the emotional scars of her father’s sudden departure when she was a little girl. When her mother rejects Gail’s beloved brother, Gail has to redefine family to fit the fragile bonds left to her. In what way does this situation shape her own future as a woman?

8. Susan, whose shattered glass opens the novel, faces numerous other shattering experiences in the form of a terrible marriage and, ultimately, the decision of whether to terminate her pregnancy. How would you have put the pieces together again had you been in her situation?

9. Mary’s feelings of obligation keep her from completing the walk with the others, but she plays an important role as their liaison with the outside world. How would you characterize her role? Do you consider it to be uplifting, bittersweet, sad?

10. What universal lessons can be gained from the way Janice confronts her depression? To what do you attribute her survival?

11. Do you believe that behavioral differences between genders are due to nature or nurture? What are the causes of sexism, against men as well as women? Discuss solutions—both realistic ones and long shots—for resolving the kinds of emotional pain brought to light by The Elegant Gathering of White Snows.

12. If you had walked with the Elegant Gathering women, what burdens from your life would you have wanted to relinquish?

13. Gail makes a poignant fireside observation: “You know, we are the only ones who have been looking for ourselves.” Is this process of self-discovery ultimately a solitary one?

14. Gail makes a poignant fireside observation: “You know, we are the only ones who have been looking for ourselves.” Is this process of self-discovery ultimately a solitary one?

15. The novel is sprinkled with news releases about the Women Walkers’ activities. Try composing your own news release describing a liberating activity you sometimes imagine undertaking.

16. What new definitions of sexuality and love did you gain from the novel?

17. Many additional characters are introduced through the Women Walker Effect. Which of these stories was most memorable for you? In what way do the media, and storytelling in general, sustain women worldwide?

18. Did you experience the Women Walker Effect while reading the novel? If so, what are some of the new directions you will embark on as a result?

Customer Reviews

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Elegant Gathering of White Snows 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
zee12 More than 1 year ago
For any woman who has ever just wanted to walk out the door and not come back...or wanted to just keep driving past the city limits sign...for any who have just been FED UP with the system, their lives... I think that Kris Radish gives us memorable scenerios, strong women, and a touch of fantasy-that-could-be reality...if you crossed your fingers and whistled in the dark... I have enjoyed all of her books and look forward to the one or two that I have yet to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great Chris Radish book! Well written for women of all ages. It is a wonderful example of the caring bond we (women) have that keeps us together. Renews my faith in all women that we all go through a lot of "stuff" and no one ever talks about it. I am making all my good friends read it and then we will go on a long walk! LOVED IT!
Guest More than 1 year ago
You either 'get' this book, or you don't! I get it! It is fabulous. I recommended it to my friends and I know that it has been a favorite of several book clubs in the area. I have read all Radish fiction books and think they are all great! I look forward to her next novel due out Jan. 2007
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book alternates between beautifully-written stories of life, love, and loss and what feels like sappy, saccharine-coated slop. Too many underdeveloped characters not only make the narrative hard to follow, but kept me from ever really caring about any of these women. The leaps from women walking to the 'miracles' that ripple from them are just too ridiculous to be believed (as someone pointed out, the cop suddenly seized with a desire to see his mother is just thrown at us with little development and no believability). Unfortunately, lovely, shining moments of Radish's prose were all too soon forgotten as my irritation mounted at the 'love-fest' scenes. Women (both lesbian and straight) can and do feel tremendous love for each other, but most of us would be too embarrassed to gush on about it in the ways Radish does. The biggest problem with this book is that it could have used a strong editor to weed out the slop from the gold. The best thing about the book is the inclusion of the opening chapter of Radish's next book, Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn. From this brief glance, it appears that Radish may have reined in some of her earlier silly exuberance, and that the characters (or at least the main character) may actually develop in some thoughful and measured way. One can only hope.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Slow and at times appeared corny rather than genuine. Had great potential to be motivating and uplifting for women everywhere but, did not come across as 'real' on the pages!
BeverlyT on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This book really made me think about my life as a woman, wife and especially as a mother. It was a great story but left me feeling a bit "down" for a while.
amachiski on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I thought this book sounded good (it was a book club pick) but I couldn't connect to the story at all. The author attempted tell the story of each of the eight boring women and it became a little unbelievable. It felt forced as it tried to touch on every clique theme such as divorce, gays, death, rape, etc, etc. It was a women¿s victim book. The overt lesbian agenda was less than subtle. This is a feminist gone bad book you should skip. My book club agrees!
sunfi on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This has to be one of the best books I've read in quite a while. I think a lot of it probably had to do with where I am at in my life right now. The idea of the story is that a group of women just walk away from everything, their problems, spouses, households, and children. They discover the importance of friendships with other women and they embark on a journey self-discovery, remember dreams that they had, promises that they told themselves, and sorrows that they tried to forget. All these things color and shape the woman the way that she is today, both the good and the bad, but eventually these things need to be dealt with and either accepted or let go so that a person can move on with their life and within their skin. A couple of the parts of the book I had a tough time relating to but for the most part I really enjoyed it.
skinglist on LibraryThing 8 months ago
WOW. This book was just amazing. Took me longer than I would have liked to read it due to a lack of time, but the past three days I was definitely crawling out of my skin to get it read.I love how the author interwove 'articles' from the walkers' past with their current stories and at times found myself thinking that this was a true story."Papa Goose out here chasing the duckies"I liked that, and all the other 'walker effect's. I also like how she left them unresolved, we don't know what became of those the women had an effect on.Out of all the women, Chris reminded me the most of myself. Always running. I wonder when I'm going to settle, wonder if that's in my vocab at all. Not yet.This was a wonderful book and I'm so grateful to karen-r for sending it. I have a dear friend who I think I'm going to pass this on to tomorrow night at my sayonara.
clik4 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A journey based on friendship; sharing tragedy, disappointments, betrayal, trauma, heart crushing loss, confusion, identity crisis, grief, mind numbing routines, expectations, responsibility and complacency. A change from knowing gentle heart sounds to hearing exploding voices from the soul; daring exploration, risk taking, acceptance found, a soft place to rest, offering and receiving support, leaving the past and making strong choices. One group of women finding each other and themselves, inspiring other women resulting in changes and clarified choices, garnering strength from each other and from within, finding each individual potential free from repercussion. Laughter, love, friendship and sharing from a female viewpoint.I feel like a long walk with some friends.
Black821Library on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Kris Radish has powerful images in her books and opens the door for women to enable their own dreams.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I LOVED this book!!! A group of friends decide to walk out on their lives in order to put themselves back together. Along their journey they not only heal themselves and each other, but random people who hear about their walk. Beautifully told and heart wrenching, the characters are identifiable and lovable. I cannot think of woman who would not relate in some way to this book. A must read.
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TLWalters More than 1 year ago
The first chapter grabbed me. But then it went downhill from there. There were so many characters and none were fully developed. I tried to get into the book, but it was so choppy that as soon as you started to sort of relate with a character, it ended and you never heard from them again. Overall, I didn't like this book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was given a bag of books and this stuck out as different. It was. I couldn't connect with all the women but then, that would be impossible anyway. All of them were better off when they let go of the weights they kept with them. Alice was wonderful but so were many of the little vignettes of women altered by reading about the walkers. I loved Sister Cheryl and Lenny. It is all form the heart. I wished I had a book group to share it with.
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kell0398 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and could actually relate to each of the characters that are in the book.
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CK2 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book becasue it struck a cord with me. In fact, have thought about just taking off and walking (acutally driving). So I was really surprised when the plot revolved around leaving everything behind to find inner truth. Even though not every side character was fully developed and it had, what seemed, as an 'all women are lesbian" theme, I thought the book was inspiring and thought provoking.