Books by Joan Chase

Released: Aug. 1, 1991

Chase's first collection displays the same subtlety and grace that distinguish her lyrical novels (During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, 1983; The Evening Wolves, 1989) from most other fiction about domestic life. There's nothing formulaic or predictable about these 11 nuanced tales about girls growing into their sexuality, women troubled by bad marriages, and men possessed by dreams of a better life. The young narrator of ``Aunt Josie'' learns about masculine desire and feminine wile by watching her beautiful and entrancing aunt, who lives at a state farm for boys where her husband is the athletic director and her niece visits for the summer. In ``J.C. Peach,'' an adolescent girl, infatuated with a more self-possessed classmate, shares with her the bond of their first periods. Slightly older, the 16-year-old narrator of ``Elderberries and Souls'' has a wild crush on her stepuncle until his dark moodiness sends her running back to her loyal beau, a less complex fellow her own age. In ``The Harrier,'' a married woman ``in a mist of yearning'' lusts for a local artist/mechanic, a younger man much closer to nature and more at peace with himself than her insensitive husband. Divorced women overcome self-pity and guilt in encounters with people worse off than they in ``Crowing'' and ``Ghost Dance.'' In ``Black Ice,'' a wife separated from her husband reviews on the phone their history of car accidents after he's survived a dramatic one alone. Chase's men are often driven by a fear of failure and a vision of a simpler life: the grandfather/defense-analyst in ``The Whole of the World'' must prove he's a better woodsman than his sons-in-law; the manic husband in ``An Energy Crisis'' changes his grand scheme with each job transfer; and the prep-school teacher in ``Jack Pine Savage,'' having abandoned his Ph.D. for the exigencies of a family, dreams of life as a French trapper in Canada. The title story, about life in a lower-middle-class housing development, is typical of Chase's superior storytelling skills—it's so multidimensional it resists paraphrase. Once again, Chase brings extraordinary elegance and imagination to everyday realism. Read full book review >

As intensely poetic and deeply felt as her first novel (During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, 1983), Chase's latest proves her a master of domestic portraiture, for here she brings to life—through a series of alternating voices—a family as emotionally complex and uniquely American as the matriarch in her earlier book. Though he never gets to tell his own story, Francis Clemmons dominates this narrative as he dominates those who do speak here—his three children and his second wife. Ever since first wife Phoebe died, Francis, an unsuccessful musician with a mean tongue and a penchant for morbidity, struggles to keep his brood of "miniature adults" intact. His eldest daughter, Margy, acts as mother of her younger siblings, Ruthann and Tommy, and as a consequence she's mature beyond her years. Since the age of 12, this curly-haired blonde has had a figure to match her adult behavior, a voluptuousness that makes her prey to the wolves in the title—those men who lead women into temptation and sin. Ruthann, a better student than her sister, nevertheless shows poorer judgment in affairs of the heart; one minute, she flirts with nymphomania, the next she's born again. And before she finishes high school, she elopes with a young minister, a man much approved of by her God-fearing and germ-obsessed stepmother—a priggish war widow who's only goal is "to be truly a 'helpmeet,' as God intended" for her difficult husband, who, once he's settled into a boring job in suburban Virginia, continues to pursue "frugality for its own sake." Craving the middle-class respectability that Francis scorns, Gloria is "stubbornly literal-minded" in her husband's view, but she puts up with his abusive fits. In fact, his volatile nature—his vulgar rages as well as his manic wit—keeps this family on the edge. Only young Tommy, the apple of his stepmother's eye, seems immune to his father's outrageous behavior, substituting an alternative reality fed by war stories and tales of adventure. Episodic and atmospheric, this intoxicating fiction follows Margy and Ruthann through their uneasy transitions to womanhood—a period during which they play with fire and manage to remain unscathed. Ripe and inflamed, like the burgeoning sexuality it depicts, this truly marvelous novel discovers poetry in ordinary life. Read full book review >