THE SOUTHERN WOMAN: New and Selected Fiction

Elizabeth Spencer, Author . Modern Library $23.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-679-64218-3

Every good Southern writer interprets the essence of existence in that region in a distinctive way, and Spencer, whose career has spanned 60 years, is one of the most distinguished of a group that includes Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor. Her fiction is as much a record of 20th-century American life as it is particularly "Southern" in cast. The largest section of this new collection of her work is devoted to her stories set in the South, and the social themes are finely wrought. In "Ship Island," a young woman feels increasingly off-kilter when she spends a summer dating a boy from the established "In Crowd," who represent a genial but sheltered world of tennis whites and rush parties. The three Marilee stories explore a complicated family history against the backdrop of small-town rural Mississippi (the landscape of Spencer's childhood) in the 1930s and 1940s. Included in the group of Italian stories is Spencer's best-known work, the novella "The Light in the Piazza"—a mother-daughter tale and love story that was made into a 1962 movie. Spencer is especially adept at seamlessly anchoring family histories and coming-of-age narratives in a particular time and place. Later stories (some set in Canada and New York) include "Jack of Diamonds," which nails the relationship between 18-year-old Rosalind and her father, three years following the tragic death of her mother, and the poignant "The Legacy" (one of six new stories), wherein a crippled young woman comes into some money and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Spencer's world-view—even in the shorter vignettes—is broad, and her keen eye and ear for domestic detail will interest those with a penchant for John Cheever or Alice Munro. This career-spanning collection should firmly secure her place in the canon of American short story masters. (Aug. 7)

Reviewed on: 07/23/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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