Family is a serious business. For Hester Kaplan, whose powerful, psychologically acute stories are collected in the Flannery O'Connor Award-winning The Edge of Marriage
, familial bonds are so final that they make words such as "love" and "commitment" seem almost trivial. Although the author writes mostly about enduring, stable relationships, her characters nonetheless find themselves in emotional free fall. In "From Where We've Fallen" a couple struggles to cope with the return of their grown but unstable son; the daughter in "Goodwill" searches for the secrets she imagines must lie hidden in her dead mother's closet; in the title story, a husband loses himself in the vastness of his wife's grief after the death of her best friend. Several of these tales tap unlikely affections: the husband of "Claude Comes and Goes" mourns his wife's former lover, while in "Cuckle Me," a middle-aged woman hired to care for an 85-year-old man finds herself surprised by a love that's no less powerful because it's inspired by death: "We understood something then, that old men die soon, and each day had to become as full, as thick and colorful as paintings lit by candlelight."
Kaplan writes a quiet, often somber prose studded with lovely images. In "Goodwill," a homeless man walks away wearing the dead woman's clothes under his own, "the bottom of my mother's green coat flapping behind him like the tail feathers of a bird." But her greatest achievement here is her unsentimental, less-than-tender portrait of marriage. The husband of the title story, for instance, takes fright rather than comfort from the fact that he and his wife have each other--and only each other: "I felt a terrible panic then, that here in front of me was the rest of my life, that I would be with this woman forever, because I loved her, because this is what I would do certainly, because not being with her was never an option...." The edge of marriage, Kaplan suggests, is the place we come to when the rest of our lives have been stripped away--and what we find there has as much to do with mortality as it does with love. --Chloe Byrne
From Library Journal
"He's a man with a disease, out of control sometimes, sometimes hateful, he knows, but forgiven." Such is the tenor of these stories by Kaplan, whose Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection is suffused with illness and resentment yet tempered with hope. Mostly told in the first person, these stories have an almost uncomfortably intimate quality. In one, a man who has lost a hand in a car accident fears that he will loose the other. A woman sorts through her dead mother's clothes, reflecting on how little she really knew her. And in the title story, a husband watches with anguish as his wife suffers a breakdown after the death of her friend. Though the stories are full of betrayal and defeat, they are elegantly written. Taut yet smooth, they are a glass surface reflecting emotional tension, complex relationships, and somber reality. A worthy addition to all public libraries.AYvette Weller Olson, City Univ. Lib., Renton, WA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.