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In this collection of new poems Goedicke presents us with a stark, frequently harsh, and uncompromising perspective on the relentless march of love and life toward death. Nature's rhythms--of the sea, the seasons, organic growth and decay--are both metaphor and reality as the poet takes note of changes in her mate and in their relationship against a backdrop of snow, night, natural and man-made disasters, and "lint and cat fur" ("What the Dust Does").
The book is dedicated to "Leonard," "for we who are one body." Many of the poems concern a long, deep, relationship, now become turbulent because of change: "Thirty years . . . now this // after hours of bitter contention / because nothing's right / anymore" ("The Things I May Not Say"). Two people who have been so close now face the inevitable but they are not fading happily into the sunset: "I know you'd mother me / forever, and I you, /but here, at the end of everything / we know // even the kindest / words scrape against each other like seashells" ("What Holds Us Together").
Yet there are times of pleasure and tranquillity: "everything we do, even the egg / sandwiches we eat stick to the ribs / like caviar: / because you make me laugh" ("Old Hands"). "For last night, in your faded photograph album of a voice, / you sang us both to sleep" ("Alma de Casa"). And where there is deterioration, there is also devotion: "The shell around us is cracked / and you're in my arms, shaking. Over the crumbling / excavations beneath us. Where I won't, / I will not drop you" ("The Ground Beneath Us"). "Children are coming to grief, / cars burning in the streets. / In the brightest light of all, / I would like to catch him when he falls" ("The Brightest Light").
Summary:In the title story of this collection, "Survival Rates," a husband's thyroid cancer appears to be a greater threat to his marriage than it does to his health. The young girl who survives an accident in "Jumping" ends up a casualty anyway. In "Howard Johnson's House," a plastic surgeon repairs a nine year old girl's nose after it is severely damaged by a dog bite. Even before the injury, however, the child's nose was hideous. When the surgeon gives her a cosmetically perfect nose, the girl's mother is not merely disappointed but outraged. Two girls must adapt to life after colon surgery in "Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose."
The title story, "In the Gloaming," recounts a mother's final weeks with her 33 year old son who is dying from AIDS. Janet realizes that "the enemy was part of Laird, and neither he nor she nor any of the doctors or experts or ministers could separate the two." (p. 29) He dies at home with his mother next to him.
"Home" depicts the struggle of an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's dementia who is being coerced by her family to live in a nursing home. She immediately understands that living there would essentially kill her.
In "Watch the Animals," Diana Frick is a wealthy animal lover who has no interest in human relationships. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, she refuses conventional treatment and continues to smoke cigarettes. Surrounded by her pets, she commits suicide by drug overdose but not before she has arranged new homes for all her animals.
Despite years of trying, Cara Glanzman and her husband, Richard Case, both thirty-four years old, are unable to have a child. In fact she is contemplating getting a divorce, and he has decided that he really doesn't want any children. Everything changes when Cara is raped and becomes pregnant by Derrick James Cooper, also known as the "Reservoir Rapist." Although Cara initially considers having an abortion, she decides to have the baby.
As the pregnancy progresses, Cara discovers herself even as her husband becomes lost and despondent. The couple is greatly aided by a delightful midwife named Dorothy Pendleton. When Cara's large, hairy son is born, Richard is present to assist Dorothy with the delivery. "Wolfman Junior," the son of a monster, seems to be accepted by both his mother and surrogate father.
When Ruth's unfaithful and unappreciative husband Bobbo calls her a she-devil, she decides to appropriate that identity with a vengeance and take a different spot in the power relations of the world. She wants revenge, power, money, and "to be loved and not love in return"(49). Specifically, Ruth wants to bring about the downfall of her husband's lover, Mary Fisher, a pretty, blonde romance novelist who lives in a tower by the sea and lacks for neither love nor money nor power.
Ruth commences her elaborate revenge by burning down her own home and dumping her surly children with Mary and Bobbo. She continues on a literally shape-shifting quest in which she changes identities; gains skill, power, and money; and explores and critiques key sites of power and powerlessness in contemporary society, including the church, the law, the geriatric institution, the family home, and (above all) the bedroom.
By the end of the novel, Ruth achieves all four of her goals in abundance. Her success, however, raises complex ethical questions, not only because she uses the same strategies of manipulation and cruelty of which she was a victim, but also because of the painful physical reconstruction of her body that is the tool of her victory.
Denny and Susan McCready are a young couple whose newborn son has cystic fibrosis. They take him home to the farm, where they live with Denny's father. For several months Denny can barely bring himself to touch the baby, because he is afraid to develop too close a relationship with a child condemned to an early death.
After the boy dies, the grief-stricken Susan drifts away from her husband, finally leaving the farm and moving into town. Denny, too, is lost. He buys a small boat--something his father always objected to--and cruises on the river. One day Susan returns. "I want to come home," she says. (p. 196) "I sometimes think that all of us out here just gave up a little early." (p. 204) They endure.
This fine collection of nine stories--the author's first--offers the reader a variety of experiences that are both familiar and foreign. All concern Southeast Asian Indian (often Bengali) protagonists living either in India, or after transplantation, in the United States. All provide rich descriptions of the details of Indian life, and of cultural values and customs. While the domestic routines (for example, Indian food and cooking provide an important backdrop in several stories) may be unfamiliar to American readers, the style and themes of Lahiri's writing are highly accessible, absorbing, and moving.
Most of the stories are written from a perspective that is between cultures. The characters are not traumatized refugees but are negotiating a path in a country (America) that seems to provide opportunities ("A Temporary Matter," "The Third and Final Continent," "Mrs. Sen's," "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"); or they are the Americanized children of such Indian families ("Interpreter of Maladies," "This Blessed House"). Ties to the Asian sub-continent may be strong or weak, primary text or subtext, but they are ever-present. Living between cultures lends an extra layer of complexity to situations and relationships that are difficult in and of themselves.
In mid-19th century England, a small group of religious women called the Household of Hidden Stars follow Muley Moloch, an itinerant prophet, across the world to establish a life for themselves in New South Wales. Catherine, Moloch's wife, gives her account of their story many years later in 1898.
Moloch is an illiterate shoemaker-turned-prophet who claims to perform miracles. His goal is to prepare the way for the Second Coming of Christ. To accomplish this, he and his group of 8 or 9 women set out to lead exemplary lives in the wilderness, yet they do not attempt to make converts.
When Catherine becomes pregnant, she and the others think her pregnancy is a miracle. (In reality, Moloch has had sex with her while she was desperately ill and unaware of what was going on.) They name the child Immanuel and believe that he is the Second Coming of Christ.
Muloch considers the local Aboriginal people to be demons and treats them as such. One day he sees Immanuel talking to a "demon" and shoots the man dead. Immanuel, already fed up with all the craziness, runs away. At this point the women finally seize control of their own lives and tell Moloch that he must leave. As the years progress, the women remain together. One by one they die of consumption, until only Catherine and Louisa are left.
Charles Bovary is a country physician who, after an unhappy first marriage, marries the daughter of a patient. Emma is eager to leave her father's dirty farm but finds marriage to be less romantic and satisfying than she expected. Charles is not a prince, but a bumbling, aging man. Even when at work he performs more like a veterinarian than a skilled surgeon. Indeed, when he and the local chemist attempt a new procedure on a clubfoot, the patient gets gangrene and loses his leg.
Disgusted, Emma develops a relationship with Leon Dupuis, a young lawyer. She refuses to sleep with him but regrets it after he leaves town. She then meets Rodolphe Boulanger, a wealthy landowner who seduces Emma to pass the time. They have a brief if passionate affair.
When Boulanger abandons her, Emma returns to Leon, this time giving in to their mutual passion. Her affair has an air of desperation. She soon exhausts her limited funds on trips to visit her lover and love gifts. Knowing that her husband will discover her affair when their financial situation is revealed, Emma overdoses on arsenic and dies miserably.
The narrator, an author, is accosted by his friend, Sam Nolan, who has just had his appendix taken out and thinks his experience would provide useful information for one who writes stories: Sam says he has discovered how and why male patients fall in love with their nurses. Sam's experience of being hospitalized is at first like being caught in a machine, he says. This changes after the surgery, when the nurse becomes his caregiver and rescuer.
He feels a great tenderness for what he calls the "beauty of her efficiency." He denies being in love, blaming the morphine and fever for his attachment, but he tells how he did not want to see his wife when she visited, and when he describes giving the nurse a parting gift, a pair of gloves, the narrator sees tears in his eyes. According to the narrator, Sam's story is in fact about his "terrible wife," and she is the reason "it [falling in love] has happened."