Flights of Angels

Ellen Gilchrist, Author Little Brown and Company $34 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-31486-2
Easily her best book in years, this latest collection of 18 stories by Gilchrist features some of her familiar, endearingly eccentric narrators (Rhoda and other members of the Manning family; Crystal and her maid, Traceleen). There are also some new, young and engaging characters and, throughout the book, a convincing evocation of the changing South. The new reality, as depicted here, includes the waning of racism, the sexual revolution and the growth of feminism. Among these characters, there's a determination to make their lives count in a wider radius than New Orleans, Fayetteville, Ark., and the Mississippi Delta. Here again, the female characters have been raised as Southern belles controlled by indomitable, charming, selfish and racist fathers; as women they still play second fiddle to their brothers, who are generally weak-willed, gambling, drinking, womanizing wastrels. Gilchrist's middle-aged heroines are spoiled and reckless and beautiful and needy; all have black maids and treat them courteously and as confidantes; all are looking for love and meaning to counter the pain of loss and death. Meanwhile, they drink and take pills and crack jokes and are loyal to family (no matter how exasperating) and friends. In the vibrant short narratives that feature younger protagonists, the sexual revolution and the drug culture add complications to family relationships. At their best, Gilchrist's stories convey the old-fashioned idea that charity, compassion and good works can change the world. One reads this collection entertained by her distinctive prose, beguiled by her vivid characters and buoyed by the insistent touches of humor and hope that she brings to her vision of chaotic lives. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/21/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-316-00230-1
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