In one of Gilchrist's sublimely mellow short stories, a resourceful housemaid describes meeting the teen-aged son of her employer, a wealthy woman just married for the second time: "‘I'm Traceleen,' I said. ‘I'm going to be the maid.' ‘I'm King,' he said. ‘I'm going to be the stepchild.'" This brief exchange, wryly funny and straightforward, is absolutely typical of Gilchrist's characters, who, whatever their shortcomings, always have a keen sense of who they are. One story even centers on a resourceful young woman named Nora Jean who, desperate to join her no-good boyfriend, robs a bar in New Orleans and escapes dressed as a nun. Wealthy or dirt poor, these characters share an invigorating sense of finding something to savor in their circumstances. Gilchrist makes harmony and generosity inherently suspenseful, because once such blessings appear we become anxious for them to continue. We read, too, for the pleasure of recognition, for the rapid, easy perfection with which Gilchrist establishes a scene. With thirty-four stories weighing in at over 500 pages, no one could call this a slim volume, and yet the recollection of other wonderful stories necessarily omitted bring to mind the words of Jane Austen: "If a book is well written, I always find it too short." By that measure this collection is short indeed.
Gilchrist's characters are real to her, as is evidenced by the selections she has made from seven previous works (e.g., The Courts of Love) to include in this collection. She has imagined entire lives, and her stories visit and revisit them at various points from childhood to late middle age. These characters have networks of relatives and friends, some of whom pop up unexpectedly in other stories. Readers will enjoy getting to know the irrepressible Rhoda Manning and her brother and cousins, Nora Jane and her twins, Miss Crystal and her chatty maid Traceleen. Gilchrist is an important voice in contemporary Southern fiction, and this book belongs in every library. Highly recommended.--Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, New Brighton, MN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Few writers are as adept at spinning funny, slyly insightful tales that radiate
outward like tiny satellites, orbiting a fictional universe that mirrors the
more unpredictable and tellingly human moments in our own.
New York Times Book Review
A selection of short stories, chosen by Gilchrist (Sarah Conley, 1997, etc.) herself from every period of her career: one of those authoritative "big books" meant to be a compilation of the best that has gone before rather than something new. Anyone who's familiar with Gilchrist will find her usual themessouthern bonhomie, wistful middle-aged lust, and lyric humorin abundance from the very earliest pieces (The Land of Dreamy Dreams, 1985) to the most recent (Flights of Angels, 1998). Since this is obviously a volume aimed at fans, most of the quibbles it arouses will be over what's left out rather than what's included. Where, for example, is "A Man Who Looked Like Me" (the lost-love lament from The Courts of Love, 1996) or "Paris" (Rhoda goes abroad in The Age of Miracles, 1995)? Still, the 34 stories that do make the cut have enough familiar faces to satisfy most loyal followers. Prime cuts of choice prose.Krabbé, Tim THE CAVE Trans. by Sam Garrett Farrar, Straus & Giroux (160 pp.) Oct. 2000