From the author of A Wrinkle in Time, 18 gemlike stories ranging from the small heartbreaks of childhood to the discovery of life on a new planet
In these stories, some previously published and others appearing for the first time in this collection, L’Engle explores family dynamics, loneliness, and the pains of growing up. In “Summer Camp,” children show a stunning capacity for cruelty, as when one writes an imploring letter to a lost friend only to witness that friend mocking the letter in front of their bunkmates; in “Madame, Or...” a brother finds his sister at a finishing school with a sordid underbelly and is unable to convince her to leave. L’Engle employs rhythm and repetition to great effect in multiple stories—the same gray cat seems to appear in “Gilberte Must Play Bach” and “Madame, Or...”—and sometimes even in the language of a single sentence: “The piano stood in the lamplight, lamplight shining through burnt shades, red candles in the silver candlesticks...red wax drippings on the base of the candlesticks.” Occasionally, emotional undertones flow over, as in the protagonist’s somewhat saccharine goodbye to her Southern home in “White in the Moon the Long Road Lies.” Overall, though, the stories seem to peer at strong emotions from the corner of the eye, and humor dances in and out of the tales. “A Foreign Agent” sees a mother and daughter in battle over the daughter’s glasses, which have come to represent the bridge between childhood and adulthood when the mother’s literary agent begins to pursue the daughter. On another planet, a higher life form makes a joke via code: The visitors will be “quartered—housed, that is, of course, not drawn and quartered.” While there is levity, many of these stories end with characters undecided, straddling a nostalgic past and an unsettled future. Although written largely throughout the 1940s and '50s, L’Engle’s lucid explorations of relationships make her writing equally accessible today.
A luminous collection that mines the mundane as cannily as the fantastic and extraterrestrial.