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The Earth and the Sky: Stories Paperback – 1997
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There is not a single story here that I didn't enjoy--and nearly all of them are close to perfect--but if I were to pick one that seemed emblematic of the whole (and which continues to resonate for me), I would select "Stone Daughter." Its protagonist, a woman who moves to Japan with her husband to attend to his late father's business, tries to fit in with his traditionalist rural family. She reassures her husband, "I want to be Japanese. Here you have such a spiritual society. What do we have in America?" and she attempts to help first with the household (much to her in-laws' dismay), then with the business--yet he, for his part, wishes they were back in America. They are "two expatriates of different countries."
The author could almost have titled her book "Stranger in a Strange Land," except that, in each tale, she manages to make the strange universal and the stranger recognizable. Far from being forever lost in translation, most of Wesselmann's characters find themselves (or their destinies) in their universally strange surroundings. In the world of these stories, everyone lives on the same earth, under the same sky.
One of the main themes threaded through the collection is loss--the characters struggle with loss of culture, loss of independence, loss of the self, loss of a parent or a child, and the loss of love. Some of the characters experience loss while driven by acculturation, duty and family loyalty
My favourite stories--in order--are: "Ingrid, Face Down," "Core Puncher," and "Snow Angels." And it was not an easy feat--either making the selection or putting them in order. These three stories are unforgettable.
"Ingrid, Face Down" is the story of a schoolteacher who finds herself taking a long weekend getaway alone--and not with her boyfriend--as originally planned. The author creates a languid pace with language as the teacher, Ingrid, gathers the courage to try scuba-diving. Ingrid physically explores the silent beauty of the ocean while simultaneously analyzing her inner, emotional life and the inevitable shortcomings of her romantic relationship with her duty-driven boyfriend.
"Core Puncher" is the story of a grieving parent who spends her holidays chasing tornados in Oklahoma. Family and friends simply don't understand the drive--or the need--Lillian has to face death and then record the event. Lillian meets a fellow traveller on the road, and they share a moment of recognition.
"Snow Angels" takes place in France and concerns a quartet of young students--Kate (the narrator), Matthew, Aaron, and Dave who meet and befriend a fellow American, Daria. Daria finds herself abandoned in a strange country, and she quickly joins the group. However, Daria's presence upsets the existing dynamic, and both Matthew and Dave find her rather annoying. Kate's relationship with Aaron is also spoiled by Daria's presence, but some serious lessons await them all when they leave for a skiing holiday in the Pyrenees.
For many years, I've found that reading short stories is a tried and true method for discovering new authors. Some authors I have discovered through reading short stories ... To this list, I shall now add Debbie Lee Wesselman. As a reader, I am in awe of a talent that can create a perfect, unforgettable tale within the structure and confines of the short story format--displacedhuman
Each story plumbs the depths of human nature and the underlying emotional currents, yet none of them end quite the way you would imagine.
From Europe to Asia to the Caribbean, North and South America, through language differences, tragedy, loss, miracles, abuse and betrayal, the characters share cross cultural voyages of self discovery, all cleverly captured in clear, easily digestible language.
The stories that stuck in my mind are "Rosa'a Vision", "Life as a Dragon" and "The Nearly Invisible People".
The stories that echoed in my brain are the twin tales "The Advancement of Dawn" and "The Dance of the Falling Comet".
The story that haunts my soul is "Maria Angelica".
Fifteen great stories that can be read with the speed of a bullet train, but that you'd choose to linger over.
Amanda Richards, November 27, 2004.