Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mending: New and Selected Stories / by Sallie Bingham

Although a middle-aged woman's life is consumed by doctor's appointments which do little more than offer emotional reassurance, it's the only way she can receive intimacy, and, in effect, the only way to "mend" her damaged soul. Two sisters, the eldest one which escaped the downtrodden family farm years ago and the younger one that didn't, talk about what's to be done with it now that their mother's succumbed to cancer. Ignoring her younger sister Shirley's emotional bond to the plot of land which she's been a part of all her life, the elder Miriam spares no tact in talking up her intentions of selling it all to the realtors, even envisioning her plan for the perfect cottage community. On another dying family farm, a capricious widow, still grieving the loss of her teenage daughter as well as her husband, hires a family of Haitian refugees against the will of her semi-bigoted land manager. Amid obvious discomfiture and through nearly impregnable language and cultural barriers, the more subtle admonitions of each's feelings about the other steadily bridge the communication gap, ultimately augmenting the perpetually tenuous social situation and initiating a serendipitous kind of connection.

Born and raised on a farm in Kentucky, literature professor, author, poet and playwright Sallie Bingham has spent much of her life in New York City, amid frequent trips to New Mexico, and has been married three times. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and Southwest Review and been featured in several anthologies and collections like this one which includes 5 new stories as well as sampling of her earlier work. Perhaps classified as a mildly feminist author with a realistic voice similar to Joyce Carol Oates or Margaret Atwood, Bingham also has something of Chekhov in her prose, a steady, astute in-the-moment type of voice, economically deconstructing the scene in any given situation and presenting a masterfully dissected arrangement of people and feelings. With striking swiftness, the reader gets to know the principal characters--who they are, where they've been and (to some degree) what they'll do next--in a manner that's at once abrupt and palpable. It's a fun experience, worthy of its praise. (FIC BINGHAM)

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