Writer and Episcopal priest Elberfeld offers this short but charming collection of quintessential Southern short stories (The Lady of the House, 2013).
Elberfeld’s eight short stories—set primarily in Georgia in the indefinite past (most likely early to mid-20th century)—differ in themes but share a distinct Dixie flavor. Most feature a dominant woman or, in the case of the first story, “Brotherly Love,” a domineering woman. The men are altogether absent or, if physically present, psychologically or otherwise troubled. “Cicadas” and the title entry focus on unhappy married women—throwbacks to another generation when wives stayed home—feeling helpless in their difficult relationships. In both cases, the women eventually abandon their marriages but in very different ways. Both “It’s a Blessing” and “The Boardinghouse Reach” include male characters whose lives are irrevocably impacted—and cut short—by accidents of birth. The devoted mothers who bore and subsequently mourn them elicit tremendous emotion. Bobby Lee, the funeral singer in “Ten Bucks,” is the lone male protagonist in the collection, but he, a disembodied vocalist who fantasizes about how he will spend his earnings while mourners suffer on the other side of a curtain, doesn’t emerge as a sympathetic character. Similarly, “Ten Bucks” is also the only story that emphasizes friendship over family. Despite the differences among stories, they are united by a memorable voice, unique and engaging while reminiscent of other great voices of Southern literature. Aside from the significant fact that the stories take place in the rural or small-town South, animating place details aren’t developed.
This delightful collection of short fiction sketches Southern life of the past.