Thinly drawn characters in tales that celebrate the lyrically evocative insights defining women’s lives.
Reflecting a take on marriage that’s become a truism—the women write poems or keep journals, but don’t have careers, their lives having been ordered by their relationships with men as two-dimensional as they are—these 14 pieces range in setting from Italy to the American West. And though Coleman's people have different names, they tend to be interchangeable symbols of women of extraordinary sensibility and the men who either limit them or offer escape. In the title story, a much-married sculptor, a hostage of his emotions and perceptions who has been seeking a woman who understands him, meets a colleague’s wife—a woman who, loving flowers, understood “the delights of loving—who likewise needed, who likewise gave praise but voiced it differently.” The young wife in “Una Bella Figura” is reminded on a visit to the now-aging couple who had accompanied her and her stodgy husband on their Italian honeymoon, of a moment of beauty and freedom before all the compromises of life took over. Another woman, a published poet, now old and dying, recalls in “Discovering Eve” how a meeting 40 years ago with a dying priest, when she felt overwhelmed by marriage and family, gave her the courage to start writing. Others, after marriages fail or become strained, find meaning by moving back to the remote family farm and finding there a man who understands (“Windfall”); by living alone out west and caring for the land because ties of the heart are what matter (“Blood Ties”); or by studying the insects of a swamp (“The Lover of Swamps”). A young girl who spies on her bachelor neighbor (“The Balducci Garden”) as he makes love to Renata, a friend of her aunt’s, learns and understands “the menace, the inexpressible beauty of love.”
Too elliptical, lyrical—and ordinary—to resonate.