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The Necessary Grace to Fall: Stories Paperback – October 15, 2009
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You know at once when you read a fiction writer who has the Big Gift. The world of the story is instantly real in a way that surprises you. The prose is instinctively and intensely sensual. The characters are full of yearning. The Necessary Grace to Fall has these qualities in abundance. Gina Ochsner unmistakably has the Big Gift.(Robert Olen Butler)
These stories, from the Midland oilfields to post-Soviet Vilnius, are distinguished by loss, and by intractable yearning. It is Gina Ochsner's achievement to show with such sensitivity and range the various ways we continue to fail each other and ourselves. A moving and powerful debut.(Ehud Havazelet)
Gina Ochsner writes with the delight and knowing of a born conjurer. Her world is that liminal space, that disconnect, between nature and our lives—heaven's winking outside the office window, grass pushing up around the casket, umbrellas opening like the great beating of wings.(Carol Edgarian)
She is . . . a breath-taking acrobat with image and metaphor, dexterous with point of view. . . . She also reaches back to what matters most: myth, legend, and the healing power of storytelling. . . . The thing about Ochsner's characters is that, though they most assuredly do stumble and fall, they also possess 'the necessary grace' to rise.(Jill Barnum North Dakota Quarterly)
With the sensitivity of poetry The Necessary Grace to Fall does what most of us avoid or cannot do: it explores death, which, looked at clearly and closely, is not, we learn, so much fearsome as it is profoundly peculiar. Death is the ultimate Other and the breakdown of illusion. These stories are a fresh apprehension of life. Gina Ochsner has given us a brave gift.(Antietam Review)
Ochsner is playful and fearless in her search to understand life through suicide, terminal illness, violence and war. Her mesmerizing prose is remarkably well-balanced. She writes with a quiet authority the grasps the poetic nature of the short-story form. Yet she possesses an innate lightheartedness that takes the edge off the Grim Reaper's scythe.(Susan Wickstrom The Oregonian)
From the Inside Flap
These eleven stories take us from the Czech Republic to Alaska, from Siberia to West Texas, as they stake out territories straddling the border between life and death. In the title story the usual thoroughness of an insurance claims investigator spirals into obsession when Howard learns that a beautiful, drowned policyholder was a childhood neighbor he never knew. He is left uncentered, and his wife is convinced that he is having an affair. In "How the Dead Live" Karen keeps her late father's spirit trapped in her home until her newly detected pregnancy drives her thoughts outward and forward. In "Unfinished Business" Ciri's ghost cannot forsake her previous life's routines, or the chance that even in death she might love or be loved by the living.
Gina Ochsner's interests in folklore and myth often suffuse these stories of visitations, crossings, partings, and second chances. Fears and longings, for example, are often projected onto animals such as the earthbound, ice-covered swans of the Siberian tundra in "Sixty-six Degrees North." Likewise, Ochsner's insights into history-burdened contemporary life in Eastern Europe and Russia also filter through. In "Then, Returning" a Lithuanian and a Russian sort body parts and marble fragments in a Vilnius cemetery hit by stray artillery shells. As they work, a group of American genealogy buffs approaches, filled with hope that a day among the gravestones will bring order to their family trees.
In such wildly inventive ways, Gina Ochsner gives us new means to think about how the dead remain among us and how we can find beauty and solace even in graceless times and places.
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In "The Necessary Grace to Fall," Ochsner deals with the complex theme of death in even more complicated story lines that actually force the reader to think.
Ochsner writes beautifully, without veiling anything, to appeal to any person that has been touched by loss in one way or another. Her stories range from dealing with death, to the process of dying, and even experiencing life after death. Her ideas are creative and are fluidly and successfully portrayed.
I strongly recommend this book if you love to read quality literature.
Ochsner's fiction employs unusual settings, which are, for the most part, remote and exotic. Many of her stories are set in the very cold regions of the earth where the elements are extremely harsh and the inhabitants' lives are ruled by the stark realities of severe weather. In addition, her landscapes often feature prominent reminders of the forces of history that shape the characters' fates: the ruins of bombed out buildings, the exposed corpses of ethnic cleansing victims, or the cultural echoes of The Holocaust. Carefully selected sensory details bring a vivid sense of reality to these settings. You feel like you're there, breathing the air, walking the ground. In many of her stories, the setting itself acts as a character, with a life of its own, and the human characters' interior lives are inextricably interwoven with the life of the place. The reader senses that these stories couldn't have happened anywhere else other than where Ochsner placed them.
Death is a common theme in these stories, yet, they are not morbid, although at times they are gruesome. At the same time, there is much dark humor, or -- absent that -- a sense of acceptance. The stories do not have happy endings, but they aren't depressing, either. Above all, they make you think. In grim environments dominated by ice and snow, living unhappy lives where death is in the process of replacing life, and where love has been replaced by betrayal or loss, Ochsner's characters are nonetheless filled with an intense yearning that keeps them moving forward. One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is that, despite the dreadful nature of what is happening to these characters, there doesn't seem to be any bitterness in them. Rather, there is a dark wonder at the beauty of the world, even when it's at its worst. These are stories to read again and again. Very highly recommended.
That being said, yeah, I have never quite understood this book. Her words, they're lovely. They fit together in new and beautiful ways.
But...the stories...they don't seem like stories. They just drift and wander in pretty words. They are a bunch of stuff that happened. Nothing to set your teeth into.
If you approach this book as poetry, you might be more satisfied with it.