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I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly Hardcover – August 14, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the introduction to this first (and only) collection by the late Mary Ladd Gavell, who died in 1967, the author's son calls her "something of an early feminist." And indeed, the women she writes about do share certain feelings of emptiness and longing, whether they're elicited by inattentive husbands, the empty-nest syndrome, or postpartum depression. In "The Infant," for example, Gavell's protagonist, Margaret, feels little of the conventional adoration a mother is supposed to feel for her newborn child: "She looked at the little gnomelike figure in her lap, and she thought, I suppose he'll be cute when he's two, and we shall be terribly proud of him and wouldn't be able to imagine life without him, but all I can think of now is that I wish we hadn't had him." So much for maternal warmth. Yet the author guides us so nonchalantly through Margaret's state of mind that it becomes impossible to judge her.

Elsewhere, Gavell is similarly revealing about the complexities of women, the hardships they endure, and the possibilities they have the potential to encounter. Yet this former managing editor of Psychiatry magazine seldom takes a rigidly feminist stance: she's more concerned with the psychological labyrinths of the human mind. It's a shame that these beautifully written stories--of which only one, "The Rotifer," has been published before--will constitute Gavell's entire literary legacy. All the more reason, then, to read and cherish them. --Yvonne Schindler

From Publishers Weekly

The story behind this collection is nearly as intriguing as the collection itself. The late Gavell was the managing editor of Psychiatry magazine and wrote stories, all unpublished, in her spare time. When she died at the age of 47 in 1967, the magazine published one of her stories "The Rotifer" as a tribute. The story was chosen for 1968's Best American Short Stories and then tabbed last year by John Updike for the Best American Short Stories of the Century, standing alongside those of Cather, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Carver and others. The 16 short fictions collected here prove that "The Rotifer" was no fluke; its easy complexity and sudden punch may remind readers of Alice Munro. Gavell's territory is that quintessential 1960s phenomenon, the nuclear family. With straightforward, cutting prose she unveils lives of elegant despair, much like Lorrie Moore, if Moore's characters were housewives who made appearances at the American Legion Hall. In "The Swing," an elderly woman is patiently sharing a house with an ailing husband. Their only son, emotionally reserved and uncommunicative, lives on the other side of town. One evening he walks into her backyard except that it's her son of 30 years earlier, a warm, enthusiastic seven-year-old boy. The denouement is a gentle surprise. Gavell demonstrates her range in "Sober, Exper., Work Guar.," in which she inhabits the unconsciously funny voice of a working-class plasterer plying his trade in an upper-class home. If anything dates these stories, it's that they feature neat endings, but many readers may find comfort in that now-rare style of short-story writing. Anthony Gavell's tribute to his mother and an introduction by Kaye Gibbons illuminate Gavell's qualities as a writer and as a woman of her times. Agent, David McCormick.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (August 14, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375506128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375506123
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,577,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"I Cannot Tell A Lie, Exactly", is a wonderful group of short stories by a writer that did not live to see them published, nor the enjoyment her words would bring to readers. And these stories are excellent not because of the unusual path they took to publication, rather because they are extremely well written. The book is also bracketed by touching tributes by her children.
The book contains 16 stories including, "Rotifer", which when published alone was selected as one of The Best American Short Stories Of 1967, and then was honored by its inclusion in The Best American Short Stories Of The Century. And this was a story that was originally published as a tribute to the writer in a non-literary journal, which makes this book's journey all the more interesting.
Virtually all of these tales describe situations that any member of a family will find familiar. Had they been written and published earlier, they would in many instances have been classic stories for the likes of The Saturday Evening Post together with the well-known covers of Norman Rockwell. This is not to say that all her stories are as idealized as many people feel Rockwell's paintings were. Just as he portrayed some of the darker sides of human nature, Mary Gavell touches on nerves that are either raw, or have the probability of developing painfully.
Two of my favorites are, "The Swing", and the story that is also the title of this book. It is a rewarding experience to read these stories that so nearly were lost. That this is the only collection takes nothing away from the work, and for those who take the time to read this lady's words, they will be well rewarded.
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By A Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Thisa may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who cherish good writing, with keen insight, humor, imagination and human wisdom, this is indeed a gem. It is a book to own, to let one's children read. The art of the short story may be dying; one hopes not...but these are wonderful examples which rate with the best. It is not for people looking for thrillers, or suspense, or horror. It is about life.
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Format: Hardcover
To paraphrase one of the blurb quotes, I was drawn to this collection by the posthumous publication situation (summarized well in the "Editorial reviews" section above), but I stuck around for the marvelous short stories. Ms. Gavell's tales are very well written slices of life, but always with a bit of whimsy or oddness thrown in to keep things interesting. Unlike works by the "literary elite" who usually draw the kind of praise this book has garnered, the stories in "I Cannot Tell A Lie, Exactly" are easy to read. Each one is a captivating gem, filled with details that paint pictures of the characters and make them into the kind of people you'd like to meet. Despite the fact that these pieces were written forty years ago (or more), the language is rarely dated in any way. With the unique appeal and quiet wisdom of Ms. Gavell's writing, I expect this collection will endure for many decades to come. One suggestion, though -- skip the gaseous introduction (by Kaye Gibbons).
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