The Price You Pay

Ellen Winter, Author
Ellen Winter, Author Southern Methodist University Press $19.95 (222p) ISBN 978-0-87074-456-3
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Women pay the price for risks both taken and avoided in this strong debut collection of 16 stories, set primarily in the Southwest and Maryland. The determinedly self-reliant women listen to '70s rock and roll, smoke Kools and slip away for a quick beer with the girls before returning to lives that have slipped beyond their control. In the title story, a hitchhiker rechristens herself ""Shane."" Running away from a dull marriage, she finds herself traveling with a man whose life is as much a half-truth as her own. A bad idea gets worse in ""A Color of Sky,"" when Angie, a Native American woman, agrees to use her truck to transport drugs in order to support her son. Angie is motivated by a desire to be ""out in the wide open, alone with my boy, seeing things we hadn't seen before,"" and accepts her fate as part of the necessary order of things. In ""Have a Prayer,"" Honey and an unnamed narrator meet in ""Women-Who-Are-Looking-for-Something-a-Little-Better,"" a support group for wives whose husbands hit them. From a drawing on a bathroom wall, the narrator discovers they share more than simply the experience. Sal smuggles cut-rate pharmaceuticals across the Mexican border for Marco, her lover, who is dying quietly in their Tucson home in ""Dragon Box."" She makes these runs with a studied precision, even though the deepest connection Sal feels for Marco is through the high-quality marijuana he used to sell. The few stories that Winter writes from a man's point of view aren't as nuanced, nor are their chronicles as gripping, as those of the hard roads her women travel. While resilience is the common theme throughout the collection, it's interesting to watch Winter's grasp of her material mature; the stories become more impressive in the second half of the volume. (Dec.)
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