YOU NEVER KNOW by Isabel Huggan

YOU NEVER KNOW

and Other Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A grab-bag collection from Canadian writer Huggan (The Elizabeth Stories, 1987): 12 stories that vary sharply as to period, setting, character, and tone but that are tied together by the twin themes of domesticity and nostalgia. The protagonists here tend to stay at home--whether in Toronto or East Africa, in the 1950's or 90's--while their husbands work, and they also tend to look back to the past. Frequently, they are in danger. In ``The Violation,'' a rural handyman is on the verge of sexually harassing the narrator, a high-school teacher's wife new to the countryside, until he learns that she's pregnant. In the colorfully reminiscent ``In Training,'' two ten-year-old girls, both of whose mothers once were nurses and have trained their daughters in clinical anatomical details, are mesmerized and frightened by a 1960's-style flasher in the park. In ``Losing Face,'' a Kenyan obscene phone-caller manages to dumbfound the contemporary narrator--a diplomatic wife--with his lewdness until, easily dispatched by the Kenyan maid, he stops calling; similarly, in ``Skin the Color of Money,'' a Canadian AID worker's wife finds herself handing over gifts and money to a shrewd old African woman after her protector, an older Western wife, has moved away. In ``Orpha Knitting,'' ``Sitsy,'' and ``Knowing People,'' women obsessively peer beyond their husbands, children, and houses into a longed-for but romanticized past. Nostalgia rules even the two most affecting stories--``On Fire,'' about an affair between a childless wife and her college friend's fertile husband, and ``Throwing and Catching,'' about a young woman's summer internship in a mental hospital of the 1970's, where she tries to help a catatonic childhood friend. As the husband in ``Sitsy'' puts it, many of Huggan's women have ``a reliquary of memories richer than anything'' in the present--and plenty of time to tend to it. Enjoyable, well-crafted stories, but with an air of being slightly behind the times.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83869-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993