“Everyone should have this book on their shelf...for the pleasure of reading a perfect story again and again.”
“[Stories of] wives, mothers and daughters who know more than they say and subtly question the conventional surfaces of their lives...In her best work, Gavell’s prose is both light and deep, wry, with a quick, sharp edge.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Like Grace Paley, Gavell takes the slice-of-life incident and transforms it into something more...with resonance and meaning.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Her stories made the ordinary compelling and often jabbed the sad and serious with an elbow of humor....[I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly] helps elevate the short story to a national art form.”
—The Seattle Times
“Replete with an understated wisdom and humor that make one regret that the book will have no encore.”
—Time Out New York
“Each [story] is a perfect gem....John Updike selected ‘The Rotifer’ for The Best American Short Stories of the Century, but any of the pieces in [this] collection could be rightly chosen for this honor.”
The story behind this collection is nearly as intriguing as the collection itself. The late Gavell was the managing editor of Psychiatry magazine and wrote stories, all unpublished, in her spare time. When she died at the age of 47 in 1967, the magazine published one of her stories "The Rotifer" as a tribute. The story was chosen for 1968's Best American Short Stories and then tabbed last year by John Updike for the Best American Short Stories of the Century, standing alongside those of Cather, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Carver and others. The 16 short fictions collected here prove that "The Rotifer" was no fluke; its easy complexity and sudden punch may remind readers of Alice Munro. Gavell's territory is that quintessential 1960s phenomenon, the nuclear family. With straightforward, cutting prose she unveils lives of elegant despair, much like Lorrie Moore, if Moore's characters were housewives who made appearances at the American Legion Hall. In "The Swing," an elderly woman is patiently sharing a house with an ailing husband. Their only son, emotionally reserved and uncommunicative, lives on the other side of town. One evening he walks into her backyard except that it's her son of 30 years earlier, a warm, enthusiastic seven-year-old boy. The denouement is a gentle surprise. Gavell demonstrates her range in "Sober, Exper., Work Guar.," in which she inhabits the unconsciously funny voice of a working-class plasterer plying his trade in an upper-class home. If anything dates these stories, it's that they feature neat endings, but many readers may find comfort in that now-rare style of short-story writing. Anthony Gavell's tribute to his mother and an introduction by Kaye Gibbons illuminateGavell's qualities as a writer and as a woman of her times. Agent, David McCormick. (Aug. 21) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Gavell's only published story, the puzzling but intriguing "The Rotifer," appeared posthumously in 1967 but was selected for The Best American Short Stories of that year and then again by John Updike as one of the Best American Short Stories of the Century. It is collected here with the other stories Gavell, an editor at Psychiatry magazine, wrote in her spare time. They are a mixed bag: most focus on fairly routine domestic issues but with an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and rage. In "Boys," a mother addresses her instinctual fear of the mysterious male species. "Baucis" tells of a woman whose family patronizes her and fails to understand her, right up to and beyond her death. The less successful stories employ flat, stock characters that seem to exist only to illustrate a predetermined point. The title tale is a charming family scene, though perhaps a bit too cute and with a telegraphed resolution. For larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/01.] Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From Gavell (1919-67), 16 mostly rural stories, many set in the south of Texas where she was born. Kaye Gibbons calls Gavell's work "magnificent," places it in the "ageless, classic grand era" of the American short story and declares its life-blood to come from its use of "our regional language." It's true that the pieces-all perfectly honed-do evoke the classic tones of, say, Eudora Welty or Katherine Anne Porter. But at the same time they're often thin to the point of anemia or familiar enough to seem more antique than classic. At her best, Gavell is very good, as in "The Rotifer" (included in "The Best American Short Stories "for 1968 and in the best of the century in 2000), an adept placing together of three disparate but similar moments in a young woman's life. Elsewhere, though, she relies on melodramatic extremes of character to push a story into being at the cost of psychological depth, as in "Penelope," where a middle-class girl gives a gift to poor Mexicans; "Lois in the Country," about an almost perversely reserved and cautious mother; or "His Beautiful Handwriting," about a schoolteacher whose well-known mentor was insensitive and bigoted. Sometimes the stories remain at the level of little more than anecdote, as do "Yankee Traders" (a couple goes antiquing) and the title story (a schoolboy tells his mother he needs a play costume-the next day). Still, in execution Gavell never stumbles, and when her ambitions rise to the level of her abilities, the results can be notable-as in the elegantly simple closing tale, "The Blessing," about belief, marriage, and the nature of dedication over three generations of a rural Texas family. Dubiously substantial enough for an entirevolume, though two or three well worthy entrants help carry the rest along.