"WINTER ROADS, SUMMER FIELDS: Stories" by Marjorie Dorner


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Twelve literary tales by mystery-writer Dorner (Freeze Frame, 1990, etc.) covering some 50 years in the history of a family farming community in Wisconsin--a first collection that, at its best, is a haunting evocation of mortality and its contingencies. In the first story--""Love's Mansion,"" set in 1935--Celie lives through a repressed girlhood (her mother binds her breasts) and comes to a sense of how the world is when she helps a local boy birth a calf. Here, Dorner delicately weaves together naturalistic elements and internal reverie. A later story--""Tree House,"" set in 1990--has the same Celie, now old and alone but still independent in her ""bright, almost outlandish clothes."" She watches Jim Mueller, who has turned his farm over to his son, build a tree house, ostensibly for his grandchildren, and finally gives him her philosophy of life (""The secret is not to be afraid""). In other pieces, such as ""Herbert (1948),"" Dorner uses her excellent ear to capture the cumulative effect of small unintended cruelties among men on a threshing crew. In ""Burying Pal (1959),"" a man buries a dead horse and remembers the death of his son from measles; in ""Lee Ann's Little Killing (1971),"" a seven-year-old girl comes to an intimation of the fragility of love when she accidentally knocks out her father with a hammer. And so forth: the stories touch upon ordinary occasions in the life of a community and its values. The best of the later pieces, naturally enough, deal with grief and loss--in ""Mass for the Dead,"" a son loses his mother; in ""Changeling,"" a mother sees her ""beautiful baby"" turn into a ""big, ugly, mean-eyed boy""; and in the ""Before the Forgetting,"" set in present time, an old woman with Alzheimer's goes in and out of memory and awareness. Dorner writes without sentimentality of a vanishing world. Some of these originally appeared in literary magazines such as Great River Review.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Milkweed