Books by Ellen Gilchrist

Ellen Gilchrist is the author of many books of fiction, including the National Book Award winner Victory Over Japan and, most recently, I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

ACTS OF GOD by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: April 8, 2014

"Overly sentimental."
Disaster becomes the impetus for renewed faith in goodness, love and spiritual uplift in these 10 stories about kindhearted Southerners from Gilchrist (A Dangerous Age, 2008, etc.). Read full book review >
A DANGEROUS AGE by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: May 13, 2008

"Trivial treatment of a big subject: The author seems to be coasting on her fans' memories and good wishes."
More angst and sex among the intricately interconnected Southern families Gilchrist (Nora Jane, 2005, etc.) has been following in fiction for nearly 30 years. Read full book review >
NORA JANE by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Aug. 22, 2005

"Hooray for Nora Jane!"
Collected for the first time in one volume, these 14 stories and one new novella chronicle the life and times of the indomitable Nora Jane Whittington. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 28, 2002

"Workmanlike, from an inspired source."
Rhoda Manning is resurrected once again in a two-part collection. Read full book review >
COLLECTED STORIES by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Dec. 14, 2000

"Prime cuts of choice prose. "
A selection of short stories, chosen by Gilchrist (Sarah Conley, 1997, etc.) herself from every period of her career: one of those authoritative "big books" meant to be a compilation of the best that has gone before rather than something new. Anyone who's familiar with Gilchrist will find her usual themes—southern bonhomie, wistful middle-aged lust, and lyric humor—in abundance from the very earliest pieces (The Land of Dreamy Dreams, 1985) to the most recent (Flights of Angels, 1998). Since this is obviously a volume aimed at fans, most of the quibbles it arouses will be over what's left out rather than what's included. Where, for example, is "A Man Who Looked Like Me" (the lost-love lament from The Courts of Love, 1996) or "Paris" (Rhoda goes abroad in The Age of Miracles, 1995)? Still, the 34 stories that do make the cut have enough familiar faces to satisfy most loyal followers. Read full book review >
THE CABAL by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: April 17, 2000

"Easy, lively reading, with some affecting moments, but mostly these tales have all the substance of a plateful of bonbons. "
The Cabal is a group of wealthy, influential residents of Jackson, Mississippi, who share the same shrink. When poet Caroline Jones arrives in town to teach at the college, she's thrust into the thick of it by attending the funeral of the Cabal's most prominent member, stage director and unqualified "Presence" Jean Lyles. A confrontation between Jean's young lover and her middle-aged, greedy sons is defused by the psychiatrist, Jim Jaspers, whose own wild behavior is a portent of disaster. After the funeral he gets even wilder, to the point that his clients worry he'll start spilling their nasty secrets. Soon Caroline is enlisted to help the rebellious daughter of another Cabal member and finds herself hot to trot with Jean's bereaved lover. Meanwhile, Jim is announcing to all that he's privy to the secrets of the universe, and powerful figures across the state are preparing to put him away, one way or another. In "The Sanguine Blood of Men," Caroline appears, pre-Jackson, as a frustrated screenwriter in San Francisco, fending off a pass from her would-be producer and sharing a house with a cousin she had looked up to since childhood. "Hearts of Dixie" portrays Jean's occasional typist, a depressed pro tennis player to whom she has entrusted a safe-deposit box full of frank letters to her family, never sent, and a pile of Krugerrands, with no instructions. And "The Big Cleanup" records the further adventures of Miss Crystal and Traceleen, for whom a makeover is the first step to solving their problems and everyone else's. Read full book review >
FLIGHTS OF ANGELS by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Sept. 18, 1998

Gilchrist rounds up the usual suspects—and a few newcomers—in an uneven but always readable eighth collection (The Courts of Love, 1996, etc.). Yes, Rhoda, many of the other Mannings, and their various cousins are back: since In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), they have provided Gilchrist with a convenient, semi-autobiographical framework through which to explore both the madness of family ties and the violent yet homey atmosphere of the American South. But a number of new, generally younger characters give the collection this time a shot in the arm: Gilchrist displays a nice grasp of the apprehensive yet anticipatory, all-possibilities-are-open attitude of young adults in "Excitement at Drake Field," "The Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor," and a series of stories about teenager Aurora Harris, though she can't resist immersing these people too in intricate family and social networks. (Southerners like Gilchrist, it seems, don't do alienation—just the mingled security and oppression of an omnipresent support/undermine system.) The author's political opinions, more openly displayed than usual, also give bite to some lazy writing. Gilchrist slings adjectives with abandon ("fine young smooth thick golden beloved skin"), and the impact of a tough, uncompromising lie about Aurora's decision to have an abortion ("The Triumph of Reason") is blunted—for the attentive reader—by the fact that the subsequent linked story is dated three months earlier in 1997 but, by internal evidence, takes place ten months later. Too bad, because "Have a *Wonderful* Nice Walk" has some delicious humor and a vintage Gilchrist line: "Well, that's the past and the past is a swamp where we wander at our peril." Nonetheless, her characters wander there frequently, and for the most part we're glad they do. Gilchrist has always excelled in delineating smart, sexy, crazy people struggling to come to terms with a legacy of beloved, bewildering progenitors. A mixed bag, but Gilchrist's emotional candor and gift for storytelling make it appealing. Read full book review >
SARAH CONLEY by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

The 13th work of fiction from Gilchrist (The Courts of Love, 1996, etc.), who here tries to give the standard midlife crisis story some fresh vigor by dropping a suddenly eligible old flame into the cast of characters. Sarah Conley is nothing if not driven. The only offspring of a poor Kentucky family, she managed to support her mother and herself after her father's death while she was still a child—and went on to turn an afterschool job as copygirl at a small-town newspaper into a journalistic career that eventually takes her all the way to Manhattan, where she ends up as an editor of Time. Glamorous, accomplished, and quite self-satisfied, Sarah juggles her career and social life without much effort, and has pretty much gotten over the absence of her son, whose custody she lost in the course of her recent divorce. Then, however, an unexpected summons from Eugenie, an ailing childhood friend, catches her off-guard, and she returns to Kentucky to discover that Eugenie is not merely sick but dying. Eugenie is married to Jack, whom Sarah always loved and who himself fell in love with Sarah after he'd become engaged to Eugenie. And now Sarah and Jack, after an absence of years, feel once more the same passion. Jack pursues Sarah this time around, following her all the way to Paris (where she goes after her final visit with Eugenie) to plead his case. Will love triumph in the end? Can passion be put on hold? And is it really possible to go home again, after all? The most familiar and best-loved potboiler quandaries take on new life under Gilchrist's direction, lending a good deal of shading (if not depth) to a fairly unoriginal plot. In the end, well-turned-out but unremarkable. Gilchrist keeps you in the palm of her hand when she tells a story, even if it's one that won't be remembered half an hour after it's over. Read full book review >
THE COURTS OF LOVE by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Nov. 4, 1996

A seventh collection of nine stories and a novella from the National Book Awardwinner (The Age of Miracles, 1995, etc.) offers an indomitable cast of characters, including the return of a favorite, the unsinkable Nora Jane. Now married to Freddy Harwood and mother to ten-year-old twin girls, Nora Jane figures in several pieces here, including the novella ``Nora Jane and Company.'' Freddy, Nora Jane, and their devoted shadow Nieman Gluuk are such endearing, gentle, happy souls that some pretty severe external forces are needed to punch up the plot. But for this Berkeley bunch, not the assassination by fanatics of a visiting poet, the bombing of Freddy's bookstore by pro-life extremists, or a visitation by the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci can puncture their charmed perspective on life. Following the novella is a story tracing Nora Jane's hectic childhood in New Orleans that throws light on the origins of her exuberant personality. There's also Dan the Golden Retriever, the title character in ``The Dog Who Delivered Papers to the Stars,'' who's caught in a domestic dispute and shot in the neck by a disgruntled husband. Miraculously, he survives, is taken in by a young man with AIDS, and serves as the catalyst for a variety of domestic rearrangements and reprisals. The best of the tales, ``A Man Who Looked Like Me,'' portrays a woman, now in midlife, reveling in the memory of her high school sweetheart. Reflections on the man she should have married, ``a young man who would never be mean, never fail at anything, never be cruel, never stop knowing life was funny,'' are nourishing but not bittersweet, for all of Gilchrist's characters have an admirable zest for life. A winning collection, filled with humor, love, and just enough human meanness to make things interesting. Gilchrist knows how to tell a story. Read full book review >
RHODA by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Nov. 3, 1995

From the ever-popular Gilchrist, a chronologically arranged gathering of 24 Rhoda Manning stories—the author's libidinous fictional alter ego: 22 of the tales are culled from all five of Gilchrist's previous collections (The Age of Miracles, p. 252, etc.); the remaining two are brand-new. From childhood to middle age, Rhoda represents Gilchrist at her southern, sexually charged best. In one omnibus volume, we're taken from a life of privilege on a plantation to first loves and diet pills, to alcohol and free love, to Xanax and fearful flings in the age of AIDS. Throughout, Gilchrist's plucky heroine—from raising kids to having an abortion, to school and travels far and wide, and finally to a successful career as a writer—remains indomitable and eager for action. ``Rhoda is passion, energy, light,'' the author says in her charming introduction—and Rhoda is indeed the shining manifestation of Gilchrist's wry, intelligent, and passionate writing. Read full book review >
THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: May 3, 1995

Gilchrist's fifth collection (Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle, 1989, etc.) is the familiar mix of dizzy lyricism, gossipy southernisms, and erotic longing that we've come to expect from her—though fans will be pleased with the continuing chronicle of the life of alter ego Rhoda Manning. ``An orgasm is an orgasm and it's a hell of a lot better than Xanax,'' Rhoda says in ``A Statue of Aphrodite,'' the book's opener about her visit with Dr. Brevard, an obstetrician who falls in love with his patient after reading one of her magazine articles; the search for orgasmic love is still Gilchrist's overriding theme, but her 50-ish heroine, introduced in In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), is now more cautious and less frenetic. There is also an elegiac quality to the collection: ``Paris'' is a slice-of-life about Rhoda overseas, her knockabout credo undercut by the death of a young man in an explosion set by the Italian Mafia; ``Joyce'' is a tribute to a one-legged university teacher (Rhoda is one of his students), a teacher of Joyce too good for the mundane world who smokes himself to death; and ``Among the Mourners'' is about a poet suicide. On a lighter note, Gilchrist has a lot of fun at the expense of the health-care industry and its byzantine insurance scams as Rhoda writes letters to Blue Cross (``The Uninsured''); of the New Orleans poetry and jazz subculture (``The Raintree Street Bar and Washateria, A Fable''); and of her old standby Miss Crystal from Victory Over Japan (1984), now afflicted with allergies (``Too Much Rain, or, The Assault of the Mold Spores''). Some of these stories are as good as poetry slams, others spend too much time in the fields of dipsy-doodle ditziness. But even so, it's one of Gilchrist's best as her characters, deep into middle age, begin to take account of lasting things. Read full book review >
ANABASIS by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

"A pro ventures out on a limb, and it cracks."
Although it is something of a relief that Gilchrist (Starcarbon, etc.) has struck out in a new direction after writing so much about the Hand family, this bland tale of a goody-good slave girl set in Greece in 431 b.c. lacks even a touch of irony. Read full book review >
STARCARBON by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: April 26, 1994

Long-time fans, especially those familiar with the Hand clan (previously introduced in Net of Jewels, 1992; I Cannot Get You Close Enough, 1990; The Anna Papers, 1988), will feel right at home with Gilchrist's latest meditation on love, sex, and family. Olivia de Haviland Hand, daughter of Daniel, a wealthy North Carolinian, decides to spend the summer after her freshman year in college with her maternal grandparents, who raised her. (Her mother, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, died in childbirth.) Olivia (Via) goes to Oklahoma and ends up reconnecting with her high school sweetheart, Bobby. When he asks her to marry him, she is forced to examine her feelings about love, sex, marriage, and motherhood. Via's 20-year-old half-sister, Jessie, is in New Orleans awaiting the birth of her first child by her cousin/husband, King, who is himself trying to grow quickly into responsible fatherhood. Via and Jessie's Aunt Helen (Daniel's sister) has left her husband and kids to pursue happiness in Boston with Irish poet Mike, whom she met after the suicide of her sister, Anna, fatally ill with cancer. Helen is trying to reconcile with her kids without giving up her new life, at the same time pressuring her brother Daniel to turn over a new leaf. Daniel, meanwhile, is languishing in Carolina deep in mid-life crisis, drinking the summer away, missing his daughters, ignoring his current lover, Margaret, until eventually he, too, sees the ``light'' of love and the possibility of a different future. Starcarbon is soap at its most elegant. Sex as life force comes through at every turn. Yet the novel's lyricism and Gilchrist's distinctive, flowing voice keeps one engaged throughout, even when the various storylines begin to lag in interest. Read full book review >
NET OF JEWELS by Ellen Gilchrist
Released: March 26, 1992

Gilchrist's latest—the coming-of-age autobiography of Rhoda Manning, introduced in In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981)—is, as usual, heavy on sensitivity and sexual soul-searching, but it's not as dazzling in its display of southern society as Gilchrist's earlier work. Rhoda Manning is cousin to Anna Hand (The Anna Papers, 1988). In her late teens, Rhoda is moved to Dunleith, Alabama, from Kentucky, and she struggles—via friends, college, sororities, affairs, and finally a bittersweet marriage—``to break the bonds'' her father ``tied me with.'' She is part rebellious late- 50's/early-60's adolescent, part ``rich and spoiled and pampered and charming.'' She wins a freshman writing contest at Vanderbilt, meets Charles William Waters, on his way to becoming an architect (``my first true running buddy, my first imaginative peer''), and- -not knowing ``that I was made of light, of star carbon and molecules'' (a Gilchrist motif in recent books)—she suffers when her careless driving leads to the death of friend Clay. After Rhoda recovers and has it out with her father (who's worried about a lawsuit), it's back to college and the trials and tribulations of a young woman who's smart. This is 1955, so an attempted rape goes unreported, but finally there's Malcolm, and marriage, and children, and separation, and civil rights, and a brief affair with a civil-rights worker, which leads to an abortion, and another attempt to make her marriage work: ``We were 23 years old and we had suffered.'' She reads Freud, drinks too much, and then Charles is dying of heart disease: ``Please don't die on me.'' But time passes, he does, and the book ends. Parts of this southern saga are schmaltzy, but Gilchrist's saving grace is, as always, her style—a mix of devil-may-care confession and emotional anarchy full of moving nostalgia for a lost world. Read full book review >