Acts of God

Ellen Gilchrist. Algonquin, $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61620-110-4
The South is alive and vibrant in Gilchrist’s latest collection of 11 stories, and so are some of her best-known characters, whom readers first met in Gilchrist’s 1984 National Book Award–winning collection, Victory Over Japan. The redoubtable Rhoda Manning initiates an escalating epistolary exchange with the owner of barking canines in “The Dogs.” In “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” Anna Hand’s niece, Louise, meets a devoted editor of her late aunt’s books while they’re both trapped in Heathrow by a terrorist attack. Many of these characters are longtime habitués of Gilchrist’s fiction, and they typify her trademark Southern women—voluble, friendly, strenuously polite, and just a bit eccentric. These “upper-middle-class white protestant princesses” value family lineage, good manners, and meandering, leisurely recollections. Set in New Orleans; Fayetteville, Ark.; and Biloxi, Miss., Gilchrist’s narratives are sedate, chatty, and linear, which will attract readers who welcome what is now considered old-fashioned storytelling. In several tales—e.g., “A Love Story,” “The Dissolution of the Myelin Sheath,” “Jumping Off Bridges into Clean Water”—Gilchrist veers into sentimental territory, twice employing plots involving suicide. One may carp that Gilchrist gives all of her characters the same voice and verbal cadences, but their dialogue rings with a Southern lilt that makes the characters distinctive and appealing. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 12/16/2013
Release date: 04/01/2014
Genre: Fiction
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