Friday, July 26, 2013

"Where She Went," by Kate Walbert

More Kate Walbert! As I wrote on 7/24/13, I so admire Walbert’s fiction. Because I enjoyed the three books I have already written about, I looked for and read her earlier book, “Where She Went: Stories” (Sarabande, 1998). This collection of stories is really, like Walbert’s “Our Kind,” a “novel in stories,” although not labeled as such. The first half of the book tells the stories of a mother, Marion, and the second half tells the stories of Marion’s daughter, Rebecca. But in fact both halves include both women’s stories. The stories start in the 1950s, and move back and forth through the years up to 1992. Marion escaped her own background in “the middle of the country, near a Great Lake few could remember the name of” (great line! Even though I lived in Michigan for many years, I still can't remember the names of all the Great Lakes....), moved to New York, and married a man she had only known for a short time. After all, at that period in our history, most women’s main goal was to find a husband. Marion’s husband Robert is a good man, but they are very different. His job took them to many cities over the years – Rochester, Norfolk, Baltimore, Tokyo, and many more. Every time, Marion tried to establish herself, decorate the new house, and build a new life. Her daughter Rebecca, who came of age in the 1970s, was determined to lead a more independent life, as were so many young women at that time. Intriguingly, she too lived in many different places, but in her case it was because of her restlessness and her longing to find out what kind of life she really wanted. Marion and her mother have a loving but somewhat wary relationship. Marion encourages Rebecca to do the traveling and have the freedom that she, Marion, wishes she had had. So Rebecca is sometimes torn between feeling she is doing what she is doing for herself, and wondering how much of her behavior is based on trying to fulfill her mother’s dreams. Like “Our Kind,” this book – without being preachy – clearly focuses on the dilemmas faced by (American) women in the second half of the twentieth century (and of course some of these dilemmas continue now). My only small reservation about this book is that occasionally it tends to get sidetracked with rather dreamlike, poorly integrated descriptions of the various locations and scenes. Because -- captured by the author's more recent books and wanting more -- I am reading “backward” in Walbert’s career (this is the earliest-published of the books I have read), naturally the writing here is slightly less accomplished than in the later books. Even so, the writing is generally beautiful and insightful, and this book, like the others by Walbert that I have written about, is well worth reading.

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