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.
Early on, Nora Jane’s grandmother tells her that she comes from a long line of strong women with strong genes and must act accordingly. In these stories, Nora Jane, one of National Book Award–winner Gilchrist’s perennial protagonists, does just that. At 19, without family or funds, she learns the art of armed robbery (using a theatrical prop gun) from a handsome anarchist, Sandy, whom she follows from New Orleans to San Francisco. There, she holds up Freddy, the owner of an independent bookstore. At gunpoint, he quotes T.S. Eliot, and later that night they wind up in his hot tub together. Torn between the two men, Nora Jane conceives and gives birth to twin daughters with different fathers. Freddy eventually wins her hand. Over the years, Freddy, Nora Jane and the twins become integral to many who gravitate toward Nora Jane’s outlook on life, which may be summarized thus: Make no plans. Just move as fast as you can in the direction of the people that you love. A renowned film critic abandons his success and returns to academic life, where he meets his wife; a priest discovers that his true calling is to love Mitzi, Nora Jane’s beautician; a mountain lion nicknamed Alabama joins the clan. Even Leonardo da Vinci drops in for a tour of UC Berkeley’s bio-chem lab. Of course, there are earthquakes and tremors, both real and figurative, along the way. And the novella opens with seismic news: Freddy has leukemia. How Nora Jane and her loved ones mobilize to join forces with science and spirituality to save Freddy’s life brings both Gilchrist’s family of characters and her bedrock themes to artful maturation. Very few writers can write intelligent comedy about the philosophical pursuit of happiness. Laurie Colwin was one. Ellen Gilchrist is another.
Hooray for Nora Jane!