The Cost of Lunch, Etc.
Marge Piercy. PM (IPG, dist.), $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-60486-496-0
With uncompromising emotional intensity, Piercy (Gone to Soldiers), the author of 17 novels, 17 volumes of poetry, and a memoir, captures the complex female experience in her debut short story collection. From the title story featuring an aspiring female poet who weighs the price of sex and poetry to a student’s disenchantment with her high school teacher (“Somebody Who Understands You”), Piercy maps the interior lives of women across generations, paying special attention to the socio-politcal environment that affects them. Her writing maintains a skillful detachment, limning moments of isolation between characters with palpable unease: “He is gentle. If he does not touch her with passion, neither does he hurt her. That is very important, not to be hurt.” Piercy, whose work is inseparable from her feminist politics, includes many characters (seven of whom are writers) who are suggestively autobiographical in their histories and musings, including a girl dying of rheumetic fever (“She’s Dying, He Said”), an anti–Vietnam War activist shuttling men to the Canadian border (“The Border”). Piercy is best at unraveling what she creates—turning an answer into a question in “Do You Love Me?,” and a soliloquy punctuated by silence in “Little Sister, Cat and Mouse.” Powerful in scope, the collection feels driven by an idea rather than a story, demonstrating Pierce’s understanding of how social constructs evolve in deeply personal ways. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/19/2014