Friday, April 1, 2011

Women in Their Beds

I am reading, among other things, Women in Their Beds, the short story collection that won Gina Berriault the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the REA Award, also won by Andre Dubus, who admired her greatly.

I first encountered Berriault in "The Stone Boy," a chilling and heartbreaking (but not sentimental, never sentimental, far from it) story I was reading for a Great Books salon. (It's been made into a movie, with Robert Duvall and Glenn Close, and Berriault also wrote the screenplay for it. And it was previously adapted for television.) After I'd read "The Stone Boy," I thought, "Who is this writer?" and kept looking for her in anthologies and bookstores. (I found her collection at Babbitt's, when I worked there, on the floor.)

Alas, she was, apparently, a "writer's writer," defined here as someone admired by other writers for "purity and passion" but sidestepped by fame.  "It seems I'm going to be famous," Emily Dickinson once wrote (to whom? my source is The Belle of Amherst, the play by William Luce that pieces together snippets of notes and letters) but it seemed her fame would come in the form of immortality, a thing she also hoped for.  Berriault eventually met with fame and acclaim but, the above article claims, wrote mostly in obscurity.

No wonder Richard Yates loved her! He, too, was appreciated by other writers but suffered obscurity after early acclaim, and the film of his novel Revolutionary Road was made after his death. Yates said, "Gina Berriault is one of the finest writers alive." But, as you can see from her New York Times obituary, she's dead.

I like Berriault in the way I like Alice Munro--although the scenes and characters are very different--for the close observation of real human behavior, the understated but firm connection to the emotional life, and the quiet, steady confidence that just to say what's happening is enough, to leave as is whatever is mysterious, to reveal whatever can unfold on its own.

Here is a brief Salon review of Women in Their Beds; reviewer Katherine Whittamore doesn't like the title story as much as I do but we both love the librarian/homeless man story, "Who Is It Can Tell Me Who I Am?" By chance, I am about to read "The Overcoat," the story mentioned at the end of this review, and a title also used by Nicolai Gogol for a story I have also discussed in a Great Books salon.

Full circle.

And I am a woman in her joy, who answered the doorbell last night to find my son, the home boy! College friends dropped him off on their way elsewhere for the weekend. I knew he was coming but did not know the details, and at that moment was expecting my daughter at the door. He then surprised his father and his sister, as each came home, and was himself surprised to find his mattress stolen, as was the overcoat in Gogol.

But that's another story.


SarahJane said...

Berriault sounds very good. I will have to add her to the never-ending list. "Women In Their Beds" is a terrific title.

Collagemama said...

I saw "The Stone Boy" movie at the Dundee Theater on Dodge Street in Omaha a quarter century ago. It was haunting. My inlaws must have been babysitting so we could have a movie date. Strange memory lane.

Angie said...

Loved it.I'm definately buying it immediately..:)Women in their beds..Sounds great!


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