cover image This Is a Voice from Your Past: New & Selected Stories

This Is a Voice from Your Past: New & Selected Stories

Merrill Joan Gerber. Ontario Review Press, $23.95 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-86538-113-1

Veteran novelist, memoirist and short story author Gerber (Stop Here, My Friend) demonstrates her prowess in several of these compelling stories. The title tale is hands-down the most entertaining, thrusting readers into an established writer's life as she receives a call out of the blue from a college friend, Ricky, the most gifted writer in her class who somehow lost that ""window of opportunity"" to his success and is now transient and unstable. The narrator is married with small babies, a busy teacher of writing, who nonetheless welcomes the lost writer back into her life, but soon learns what a liability he is. In several of the stories, the suicide of the narrator's brother-in-law takes precedence. In ""I Don't Believe This,"" first published in The Atlantic, two mature sisters take refuge from a menacing husband, who threatens to kill himself if his wife doesn't come back to him-and he eventually does, to everyone's amazement. The suicide reemerges in the story ""My Suicides,"" an eerie recollection of deaths of friends, including a more detailed version of the abusive brother-in-law's suicide, which the narrator tries to comprehend: ""And I, in my quiet home, with my children and my good husband, in my measured and reasoned life, became an accomplice to his fury."" ""Latitude,"" first published in the New Yorker, is a lovely, cut-and-dried drama of a young married woman enjoying her newly won power over her hateful in-laws, while the last story, ""Dogs Bark,"" pursues the decade-long revenge that a couple endures living next to a family with obnoxiously loud dogs. Overall, Gerber demonstrates power in her prose style, skill in her characterizations-though there is some inconsistency in the narrative tone of the middle stories, which read like chapters of novels. Hers is a work of substance and intelligence.