Missing Women and Others: Stories

June Spence, Author
June Spence, Author Riverhead Books $21.95 (196p) ISBN 978-1-57322-098-9
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-1-57322-737-7
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""I was the woods in that riddle where no felled tree would sound without a listener,"" says one of the many marginalized women in this strong debut short-story collection, and she could be speaking for all of them. Spence's characters are modern, American, idiomatic, young and uncomfortably contingent in the places they inhabit. Five times a night, the unnamed narrator of ""Fight or Flight"" gets up to test the door, and she and her jogging companion, Bernadette, play ""who's the rapist""--to which Bernadette's ultimate answer is ""they're all potentials."" The title story is a masterful description of a mother, her teenage daughter and her daughter's friend who all vanish, three disappearing women at first obscured by conflicting stories from likely witnesses, by people who come forward with confessions or theories about alien intervention, by volunteer efforts, newspaper reports, the fading posters in store windows, the psychologists who advise moderate exercise and lots of rest to all who fear a similar fate. Eventually, the three women evanesce into myth. Spence, winner of the 1995 Willa Cather Award, surveys these limited lives with humor and an admirable absence of sentimentality. The women aren't always clear about what they want, but most know they wish to avoid emotional predators. Sometimes their radar fails to detect these energy vampires. Sometimes they fault their radar for having been too effective. Many, like the young Violet in the moving ""Isabelle and Violet Are Friends,"" see their choices as a mutating series of compromises: Violet maintains a technical virginity in exchange for her father's membrane-thin control of his drinking. Spence has no illusions and writes intelligently about women in the process of relinquishing theirs. (June)
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