Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories," by Elizabeth Harrower

I am embarrassed to say that I excitedly felt I had “discovered” the Australian writer Elizabeth Harrower when I picked up her novel “In Certain Circles” and was so very taken by it. (See my post of 1/24/15). My only excuse is that Harrower is in her late eighties; her books were out of print for a long time even in her native Australia, until a press republished them starting in 2012; in the case of “In Certain Circles,” Harrower wrote it and just as it was about to be published, withheld it from publication for almost fifty years, before she finally agreed to publish it, to great acclaim, in 2014; and her books were mostly not available or at all well known in the United States until the past couple of years. I am so glad she is being rediscovered. I have now just read the recently published collection of Harrower’s short stories, “A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories” (Text Publishing, 2015), and am grateful for this gift of her stories. Although I prefer the novel to the short stories, and although the collection is a bit uneven, as such collections often are, there is much to rejoice about and to enjoy in this volume. The stories’ main quality is their unflinching looks at characters’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and at the way the characters interact with family members, friends, lovers, co-workers, and in fact with life itself. Most of the characters are women, and most of them are unhappy, although there are moments of hope. Several of the stories portray the ways that people who love each other can deeply hurt each other, sometimes without even realizing it, because of their own limitations. We also see how constrained the lives of young people, especially young women, can be. Occasionally we get a sense of the desperation of people who live in certain dreary small towns of Australia (but they could be small towns anywhere). There is a grimness to some of the lives depicted. But despite all these darker aspects of the stories, there are almost always glimpses of, and eruptions of, a powerful life force.

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