Sunday, March 30, 2008

You Won't Remember This

You Won't Remember This is Kate Blackwell's first published collection, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. All twelve stories center around the ordinary domestic lives of modern day Southern women, yet Blackwell manages to imbue otherwise "forgettable" everyday occurrences with deep import and meaning. The stories have relationships at their heart - mother and daughter, husband and wife, neighbor and friend-relationships that are illuminated in all their grit and glory by Blackwell's painterly writing style.

In My First Wedding, the narrator looks back on her 12 year old self, attending the wedding of her much admired cousin Augusta:

"The eye was drawn ineluctably to the three figures sitting in a circle of light. Augusta wore nothing but her ivory slip; her bare arms and throat gleamed like porcelain in the glare of the single bulb. My mother in scarlet silk leaned toward her across the table, her lips parted in mid-speech. Beside her, my aunt smiled mysteriously, her brown hair braided and wound around her head in a burnished coronet."

But in art, as in life, the reader must be prepared for the unexpected, which intrudes in nearly each one of these tales. Alexandra, in The Secret Life of Peonies, appears to be living in the midst of domestic perfection, yet there is something slightly rotten hidden beneath this outwardly beautiful tableau:

"Alexandra arranges six pink shrimp on a white plate, adds a spring of cilantro, an handful of lemony arugula, a single cherry tomato. Tommy smiles up at her as she sets the plate in front of him. His face is pink, like a shrimp, his hair a coppery red. Then: clank, Saturday's mail shoots through the mail slot in the hall. Tommy shoves back his chair with a shriek of wood on tile."
In contrast to this scene of domestic bliss, the letter coming through the mail slot is an anonymous note to Tommy, informing him of Alexandra's affair.


At the heart of this collection is the rhetorical question posed by the narrator of My First Wedding, reflecting now on the Augusta's death . "I have learned to appreciate the beauty of still lives," she thinks, "and it saddens me to think they will all be lost. For who will remember women like my mother, my aunt, and Augusta? Who will remember any of us who live so hidden, so far from nearly everything?"

And so these stories become small, beautifully crafted memorials to women's lives and experiences, ensuring they won't, after all, be forgotten.

cross posted here

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