First collection by a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and author of Garner (2005), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times' Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.
Not much happens in these stories—not on the surface, anyway. There’s little in the way of dialogue. Allio tells more than she shows. They succeed, though, because Allio’s protagonists are obsessively observant. A Russian émigré working as a nanny re-examines her own life in the light of minutely confessional letters she receives from a former charge. The attempt to understand her best friend’s death subsumes one woman’s whole existence. A new mother, excruciatingly aware of the intricacies of class and the conflicting demands of gender, “knows she’s privileged to be a housewife looking down (from above) on a housewife.” For Allio’s protagonists, hypervigilance is a necessary condition of survival—because of near-crippling social anxiety, because they’ve been critically wounded by loss, or because they’re enduring an awful combination of the two. “The Other Woman” is exemplary. The daughter of a female university janitor who moonlights as a sociologist, Swan can’t escape the jaded worldview bequeathed to her by an amateur social scientist and lifelong hard-ass. For example, this, at a party honoring Swan’s mother-in-law, "the famous feminist": “I heard her bray above the usual modulations and I thought, Alex has spent her career practicing laughing louder than any man in academia.” Cancer does little to soften Swan’s mother, but it eats at Swan, and some of the story’s most finely wrought passages are Swan’s attempts to describe her fear and, ultimately, her grief. Swan’s voice is so real, her observations about class and race and living and dying so very spot-on, that it will likely take the reader some time to notice that “The Other Woman” follows, in its perfect inevitability, the shape of a fairy tale.
Marvels of craft and insight.