THE AGE OF GRIEF by Jane Smiley


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Five short stories and a novella by the author of Duplicate Keys (1984) and At Paradise Gate (1981), all celebrating, in one way or another, what Smiley in the novella dubs "The Age of Grief"--that time in middle age, "after all that schooling, all that care," when coming around to you is "the same cup of pain that every mortal drinks from." The protagonist here is a 35-year-old dentist, a husband and professional partner of a dramatically achieving wife, a father of three young daughters, and a contented tinkerer with "tiny machines, itsy bitsy pieces of cotton"--small things for a small life? He enters the Age of Grief when he becomes aware that his wife has a lover, and the future he'd always counted on "walking into" drops away. He probes the ties and trivia of family, and his own unexamined psycho-physical being, which erratically transmits grief and rage, and he confronts mortality in the terrifying illness of a child. As for marriage, it is "a small container" that two "inner lives" can burst or deform. The short stories, meanwhile, evolve some sad little truths. A cherished frienship with a married couple upends as careless exploitation. In "Lily," another hapless, unwitting intruder in a marriage pays a price. A reluctant visitor to his brother's Christmas celebration comes to recognize, in the failure' and fading of a long-distance love affair, his own "permanent smallness." Even a maker of bombs for a radical group admits--now that she's quit--that looking at the other side of the "firm shape of my life" reveals motives "trival, unimportant." "Jeffrey, Believe Me" is an amusing burlesque, poking fun at the female-seducer stereotype--here it's very hard work indeed, all for a swim in the gene pool. Smiley writes with a sound emotive control that shapes into firm tone and meaning the widely browsing meditations of her characters. And there is that memorable and sobering perspective--when vision changes from the far distance to the near reality of a life suddenly grown shriveled and, alas, permanently small.
Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1987
ISBN: 0385721870
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1987


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