Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"The Edge of Marriage," by Hester Kaplan

The stories in Hester Kaplan’s collection, “The Edge of Marriage" (University of Georgia Press, 1999; winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction) provide clear-eyed, unflinching looks at families with deep divisions amidst terrible, mostly unfixable problems. I seldom employ the overused word “heartbreaking,” but these stories are indeed heartbreaking; they force readers to face the awful pain of family tragedies. Family members love each other (at least part of the time) but something stands between them that is impossible to surmount: some intolerable condition or behavior, whether it be a damaged child or an unfaithful spouse. The man with one hand and his wife’s response; the couple with the son who is incorrigibly broken; the couple whose own marriage is at risk because of the husband’s and wife’s differing responses to their daughter’s disintegrating marriage; the son who is at odds with his elderly father’s caregiver; the marriage that is threatened by the wife’s grief over her best friend’s death; the couple who become enchanted with the wife’s ex-lover who reappears in their lives when he is gravely ill and needs them to be his family – each of these characters and situations is sharply and unforgettably etched on the reader’s consciousness. The powerful effectiveness of these stories comes from the devastating situations that visit these characters in the midst of their everyday lives, and the way they must go on, must deal with these afflictions even as they feel it is impossible to do so. Readers cannot help but be reminded that these situations could happen to any of us at any time, and we too would be forced to deal with what we think we could not possibly deal with. What makes reading these stories an enriching experience, despite the sadness of the situations depicted, is the humanity of the characters and the truth of the writing. Kaplan has a new book just out, "The Tell," and I will definitely read it as well.

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