THE HOUSE ON BELLE ISLE: And Other Stories
A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but hasn't received a starred or boxed review.
This first collection of seven stories from the author of The Hatbox Baby is a gentle journey through wistful memories, suffused with subdued longing. Brown places her characters in soft, twilight settings—a quiet Rhode Island beach town, a windy cliff in Maine, a Spanish mountain village, the muddy English countryside—from which they reflect upon the past and tepidly contemplate the future. In the title story, a grandfather feels the need to tell his granddaughter the story of his own grandmother, an undertaker who faced scandal and death with equanimity, but was undone by a severed hand. His wish is that "no one will be forgotten. No one will be left in the dark." Other characters in this collection, including two adolescent protagonists, have a similar sense of impending loss. In "Friend to Women," Claire, who suffers from heart arrhythmia, returns to the beach of her childhood and recollects both a teenage encounter with a middle-aged senator and the ardent but unwanted advances of one of her husband's colleagues; she understands for the first time how they have determined the contours of her life. The elongated structure of these stories works best in "The Correspondent." Lettie, by now familiar as one of Brown's tiny and self-doubting heroines, considers the unlikely friendship that developed through correspondence between her Manhattanite daughter and an impoverished Southern girl. The narrative unwinds to reveal timid growth and understated accomplishment, but the foundations of the story and its romantic prose are solid. Brown's prose is fluid and graceful and, despite the occasional use of romantic cliché, it eschews melodrama and unrealistic conclusions. These stories lack the economy usually associated with the form but, for this reason, they will probably appeal to readers who enjoyed Brown's novels. (Mar. 29)
Release date: 03/01/2002