Books by Gladys Swan

Released: Aug. 1, 2000

"Jason laments that 'there is nothing so false or stupid as the idea of the second chance, the fresh start.' Yet Swan keeps the men and women in her sensuous, bittersweet stories dreaming and reaching, in the very best traditions of American storytelling."
The five stories in Swan's fourth collection (Of Memory and Desire, 1989, etc.) stay with familiar yet satisfying material: hopelessly stifled lives adrift in the American Southwest.Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1992

A second novel from Swan (after Carnival for the Gods, 1986), who's also published three collections: a multiple point-of-view extravaganza set in a small town in New Mexico on the occasion of the return of a Hollywood actress. Chloride, New Mexico, is a small dying town ``hanging there in the mountains, isolated, off the beaten track.'' Most local gossip concerns A.J ``Bird'' Peacock, a trickster figure and ``last fledgling of the local dynasty,'' and Roselle More, who made it in Hollywood but who, like the town, is fading. As a promotional gimmick, More's director, Bill Brodkey (``the air crackle[d] around the man''), decides to bring the actress home for the premiere of her new film. Quickly enough, she disappears, and Joan Gallant, a local look-alike, stands in as her double. The ensuing narrative moves from voice to voice: Joan's identity becomes problematical as she buys into her portrayal of More, reading the actress's journal but ``Afraid the mask would be ripped from her face....'' Other points of view include mayor Curry Gatlin; More's aging mentor, Jesse Biddeford; painter Lauren Collingwood; director Brodkey; and, of course, trickster Peacock. Swan uses her sundry characters and various subplots to meditate on the way acting creates selves, then weaves a vision quest into the tapestry as well as a town fire and an odd stalking game between Joan (as More) and Peacock, who finally prepares a ``surprise'' for the town, culminating in a shindig at his place: voices, ghosts, and the ``Wilderness,'' or the ``dance of illusion''—which includes a mock-play and a lot of thrashing about in an apocalyptic finish that turns comic and upbeat. Swan is no Garc°a M†rquez, but this Southwest-flavored concoction, mildly experimental, leads us through an entertaining mix of entangling alliances and intrigues. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1991

Swan's third collection (Carnival for the Gods, Of Memory and Desire) offers ten stories, mostly set in the Southwest and mostly chronicling varieties of loss. In ``Venus Rising,'' one of the few pieces with a male protagonist, widower Jocoby, a stern narrow man who denied his wife any number of small pleasures, can't bring himself to get rid of her things; Swan subtly and poetically brings him round, through a series of visions of his wife and their life together, to intimations of a more natural way of being ``one might read if only he knew the language.'' In ``The Old Hotel,'' Jack Whedon, his wife Penny, and daughter Jewel live in debt in an old hotel in the desert until two boarders-one a deranged female and the other a teacher retired from France-move in. Jewel, witness to and participant in the ensuing adult complexities, comes of age: ``And she wanted to weep as though she were mourning the deaths of all she had known, something of her own death as well. And what would remain of it for her to remember?'' Swan usually earns such lyricism, though sometimes, as in the title story, about a woman who's ``always had trouble with history,'' evocative juxtapositions-here ranging from history books to pogroms and westward migrations-become a trifle cluttered. Again, though, the lyrical aphoristic finish (``All of us carried so far from the place of our origins'') is just right. Of the remaining stories, ``The Gift'' is about two sisters who travel to Yugoslavia and happen to meet a poet who knows their literature, while his own culture is a cipher to them; and ``Dreaming Crow'' uses a natural mysticism to tell about a woman with a crow that follows her everywhere. Some of these stories were published in The Kenyon Review, Colorado Review and Ohio Review. The best are superb explorations of loss. Read full book review >