Often concerned with themes of Catholic faith in both nonfiction (Joan of Arc, 2000) and fiction (Pearl, 2005), the versatile Gordon demonstrates her stylistic staying power in 41 stories written over several decades.
Twenty-two of them are “new and uncollected”; the rest appeared in Temporary Shelter (1987). Taken as a whole, the array demonstrates Gordon’s increasing narrative sophistication. The earlier collection’s title story, for example, deals in a rather flat, straightforward manner with the themes of ethnicity and heritage that dominate her work—in this case, the shame a Polish maid’s 13-year-old son feels for his mother in the presence of her sophisticated, educated employer. Also in the previous volume, “The Only Son of the Doctor” treats a familiar love affair between an urbane middle-aged journalist and a modest country doctor whose adult son ultimately reveals the fissures in their doomed relationship. Yet Gordon’s preoccupation with methods of storytelling, as evinced early on by her humorous reworking of classic fairy-tale themes in “A Writing Lesson,” morphs in the newer stories into several playfully self-conscious narratives. “I Need to Tell Three Stories and to Speak of Love and Death,” for example, begs the reader to help connect three seemingly unrelated tales that end in mortality and ugliness. Similarly, the narrator of “Vision” questions the kind of information a storyteller leaves in and takes out as she ponders a yarn her mother’s best friend spins on the front porch. The more recent stories also have a more muscular, socially conscious quality. The spare, nearly angry “Conversations in Prosperity” shows two older women relying on their easy friendship to shield them from life’s harsh, sad truths, while “Separation” is a dry-as-bones account of a single mother struggling between her love for her son and her own legacy of neglect and abandonment.
A welcome reminder of this still-evolving writer’s steadfast mindfulness and clarity of vision.