Mary Garrett

With her 1981 short story collection, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, Ellen Gilchrist set the standard against which her own and other American authors' work is measured. That first collection introduced Rhoda Manning and Nora Jane Whittington, two recurring characters in Gilchrist's fiction. Half of the stories in her new collection, I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy, also feature Rhoda, Gilchrist's most beloved creation.

Though Gilchrist's characters live closer to Tara than Tobacco Road, their hearts still break like lesser mortals. Rhoda Manning older, wiser, with a bruised heart and ego to match offers stories about her father, a formidable patriarch, fomenter of family intrigue, a man Rhoda loves and resembles more than she admits. In these stories, Rhoda comes to terms with a host of flawed relationships. “GštterdŠmmerung,” written in 2000, is eerily prescient, with Nora Jane Whittington, the “self-taught anarchist and quick-change artist” from In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, confronting an evil that foreshadows the carnage of 9/11.

Each of the stories is a gem, dealing with loss and redemption in equal measure: a young man mourns the loss of his child through abortion; a hairdresser mourns the loss of the only woman he could love, if only he could love women; a young girl loses her alter ego and fills the void in unexpected ways. Gilchrist wounds her characters with surgical precision and then with a healer's art, gives them a second chance at life.

Gilchrist has a natural gift for poetry that translates flawlessly to the short story form. Her characters rise from the ruins of Faulkner's decaying Old South, more adept at burning bridges than burning barns, a resilient breed that personifies the New South. Eudora Welty said that “some stories leave a train of light behind them, meteor-like, so that much later than they strike our eyes we may see their meaning like an aftereffect.” Gilchrist's writing is like that, full of stories to read and reread for their humor, unflinching honesty and universal humanity that defies class and regional boundaries. Mary Garrett writes from Middle Tennessee.

With her 1981 short story collection, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, Ellen Gilchrist set the standard against which her own and other American authors' work is measured. That first collection introduced Rhoda Manning and Nora Jane Whittington, two recurring characters in Gilchrist's fiction. Half of the stories in her new collection, I, Rhoda Manning, […]

Will Baggett, the Weather Wizard, has it all. He loves his job as Channel Seven's weatherman and after 20 years on the air he is one of the most familiar faces in Raleigh, North Carolina. People on the street ask for his autograph, and he can't set foot in the local mall without a friendly voice yelling, "Yo, Will, what's the weather?" Will's charmed life includes a good-looking wife with a talent for high-commission real estate sales and an equally good-looking son in medical school. Perfect family, perfect life, and it's all about to come crashing down around Will's ears. The blow comes abruptly with the sale of Channel Seven to a Chicago conglomerate with big ideas for the Raleigh market. The first corporate casualty is Will Baggett, and soon Will is out on the street, out of a job, with a non-compete clause in his contract that thwarts any hope of revenge. On the heels of this rude awakening comes the realization that the family who played second fiddle to Will's career has moved on with their lives while he was too self-absorbed to notice. When Will lands in jail under an avalanche of legal complications that begins with a minor traffic violation, his midlife crisis becomes a midlife disaster. As he lies on the bunk in his jail cell, it dawns on him: "On the surface, everything is gone; but if everything is gone, anything is possible." That's the way he plays it, and that's where the charm of this novel lies, as Will sets out to reinvent himself and to face his public humiliation and private failures.

Captain Saturday is the fourth novel by Robert Inman, a former Raleigh television anchorman who has won a growing regional audience with books like Dairy Queen Days. While Captain Saturday is a Southern novel in the geographical sense, the warm and reassuring message conveyed by the hearty, resilient and delightfully human cast of characters is universal, as is Inman's wryly humorous take on the suburbanization of everything, not just Dixie. The Cape Fear River may run through Will Baggett's part of the world, but in the hands of an observant and inventive author like Inman, it is the characters' genius for living, not the place where they live, that makes this novel memorable.

Mary Garrett reads and writes in Middle Tennessee.

 

Will Baggett, the Weather Wizard, has it all. He loves his job as Channel Seven's weatherman and after 20 years on the air he is one of the most familiar faces in Raleigh, North Carolina. People on the street ask for his autograph, and he can't set foot in the local mall without a friendly […]

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is one of the best loved, most widely read novels of the 20th century. The book has remained in print continuously since its publication in 1938, and the film adaptation, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, won an Oscar for best picture.

Rebecca is the story of a beautiful, enigmatic woman who married a wealthy man, Maxim de Winter, and died under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind memories that haunted the lives of everyone who knew her. The novel is narrated by the second Mrs. de Winter, a character who plays second fiddle to the memory of Rebecca, and all we know of Rebecca's story is told through her.

Rebecca's Tale, a new sequel by Sally Beauman, takes up the story 20 years after the death of Rebecca de Winter and tells it through the words of four characters, not the least of whom is Rebecca herself. The book is divided into four chapters, each one giving voice to a person who holds a piece of the puzzle: Colonel Julyan, a gentleman now old and feeble but still devoted to Rebecca's memory; Terence Gray, a likeable young man with his own secret agenda and connections to the de Winter legend; Rebecca, who appears from beyond the grave to speak for herself when her secret journals come to light; and Ellie, Colonel Julyan's daughter, whose young dreams must coexist with her aging father's obsession with Manderley and the de Winters.

Each of these characters stands out as an individual, yet their narratives are remarkably true to the tone of the original novel, a seamless extension of a story that begs to be continued. This sequel stands strongly on its own and though its publication will likely prompt a renewed interest in the original novel, having read the first book is not a prerequisite for enjoying the sequel.

There's also a delicious irony in the authorship of Rebecca's Tale. Sally Beauman, a respected novelist, was handpicked by the du Maurier estate to write the book after she wrote a 1993 New Yorker article blasting the quality of a previous, unauthorized sequel. The estate made a wise choice. Beauman has produced a supremely stylish mystery that offers ingenious solutions to the enigmas posed by the original novel and a beautifully crafted sequel that is magical in its own right as well as by association.

Mary Garrett reads and writes in Middle Tennessee.

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is one of the best loved, most widely read novels of the 20th century. The book has remained in print continuously since its publication in 1938, and the film adaptation, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, won an Oscar for best picture. Rebecca is the story of a beautiful, enigmatic woman who married […]

William Faulkner did it. Thomas Hardy did it. Robb Forman Dew does it. Each of these authors invented imaginary geographical places and made them seem so real that literary tourists are often disappointed to find them not listed on the map. Robb Forman Dew accomplishes this feat with an imaginary town in Ohio.

The characters in Dew's new novel, The Evidence Against Her, live in the invented town of Washburn, Ohio. The year is 1888, and so little happens in this sleepy hamlet that the birth of three children on a sunny day in September passes for big news.

Within a 12-hour span, the children are born into an enclave of friends and family on the prosperous side of the tracks in Washburn. The family of Leo Schofield gains their first child, a daughter; Leo's brother John Schofield acquires a son, and their friend Daniel Butler, pastor of the Methodist church, also becomes the father of a son. These three children Lily Schofield, Warren Schofield and Robert Butler come into the world together through the accident of their mothers' almost simultaneous labor pains, but the ties they forge are of their own making. Their alliance lasts a lifetime and grows richer and more complicated with the passage of the years.

In this story of an extended family and its town, nothing is as simple as the bucolic setting implies. Lily Schofield and Robert Butler marry, to no one's surprise. The fact that Lily happens to be in love with her first cousin Warren Schofield is a pain she hides as best she can. When Warren falls in love with Agnes Claytor, a younger woman and outsider to the clan, the lives of the triumvirate of Lily, Robert and Warren undergo changes that none of them could have anticipated.

In this beautiful, moving novel, the life of a small town at the turn of the century is transformed through the wonder of the author's sure grasp of her characters. Each character, each relationship is developed with such grace and intimacy that the Schofields, the Claytors and the Butlers come to seem like old friends. The relationship between Agnes Claytor and her mother, Catherine, an unwillingly transplanted Southern belle, is as memorable a portrait of the struggle between generations and cultures as any found in modern fiction.

The Evidence Against Her is an intricately constructed novel, as deceptively effortless as a stroll through Washburn's Memorial Square on an early summer afternoon. Author Robb Forman Dew is the granddaughter of poet John Crowe Ransom and the goddaughter of novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren, and she does credit to her literary heritage. Like Eudora Welty, Caroline Gordon and Edith Wharton, Dew's stories evolve magically out of place and time in response to her uncanny talent for fleshing out the abstract patterns of existence to the point where poetry and life converge.

Mary Garrett reads and writes in Middle Tennessee.

 

William Faulkner did it. Thomas Hardy did it. Robb Forman Dew does it. Each of these authors invented imaginary geographical places and made them seem so real that literary tourists are often disappointed to find them not listed on the map. Robb Forman Dew accomplishes this feat with an imaginary town in Ohio. The characters […]

It's summer vacation time again, when both parent and child try to wile away the hours while they're getting where they're going. We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: travel in cars, planes and trains can be turned into real fun in the sun if you and your about-to-be-bored offspring listen to any of the wonderfully entertaining tapes that are yours for the picking.

Are we there yet? Fortunately, Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events, now up to Book the Seventh, is beginning to come out in audio versions. These darkly quirky, humorous tales that follow the misfortunes of the three orphaned Baudelaire siblings, who are constantly moving from one disaster to another, are a fine way to take up the slack as we totter between Potters. The disarmingly honest Mr. Snickett warns the listener from the get- go that “the audiobook you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant.” But kids (ages 8-12) are not put off by these dire warnings, and neither should their elders be. The curious appeal is infectious and audiences are growing rapidly. The first two in the series The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room are read by Tim Curry. The next two, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill, are read by the inimitable Mr. Snickett (aka Daniel Handler) himself.

The Amber Spyglass, the final book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, will keep you all enthralled for more than 14 hours. Performed by the author and a full cast, the extraordinary adventures of Lyra and Will continue as they travel to a strange, dim world where no living soul has ever gone. The first two parts of this highly acclaimed series, The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, are also available on cassette (ages 11 and up).

For sheer charm, and a little nostalgia for the grown-ups, listen to Ludwig Bemelmans' timeless tales of the mischievous Madeline in the Madeline Audio Collection, read by the timeless, mischievous Carol Channing. And for the younger crew there's The Babar Audio Collection, read by the divine Louis Jourdan. You might also want to check out the contemporary, hip Chet Gecko Private Eye (ages 5 and up) as he stars in Bruce Hale's The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse and The Mystery of Mr. Nice.

For older ears New as an audio presentation, but not as a book, The Monkey's Raincoat introduces Robert Crais' smart-mouthed, tai chi-trained, Vietnam-scarred, tough-but-tender Elvis Cole and his consummately cool, armed-to-the-hilt, Rambo-esque partner Joe Pike. Elvis, a private investigator who can quip with the best of them, even when someone is holding a gun to his temple or knife to his neck, keeps the flip talk flowing while he and Joe confront a very nasty, heavily guarded, drug-dealing ex-Matador, who has probably done in the husband and kidnapped the son of a sweet, seemingly inept Encino housewife. Amid much violence and over-the-top dialogue (well delivered here by David Stuart), Elvis and Joe, with a little help from the LAPD, attempt to find Hubbie, free the boy and see that justice is done, one way or another. Fast-paced, fun and convincingly plotted, the Elvis Cole thrillers make great travel listening. The bad, the beautiful, the betrayed Elegant historical whodunits (a growing genre) are a multiple treat you have the fun of figuring out who the culprit is while soaking up the atmosphere and ambiance of another time. Elizabeth Redfern's debut novel, The Music of the Spheres, read with great style by Tim Curry, takes us to the teeming turmoil of London in 1795. At war with Republican France, England is filled with master spies of every stripe, royalist refugees fleeing the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution and a serial killer with a predilection for young, redheaded women. Jonathan Absey, officially a clerk in Whitehall and unofficially a Home Office agent, is in the thick of it, quietly gathering intelligence on French spies. But his true obsession is finding the man who murdered his own Titian-haired daughter. In the moist, heavy heat of July, his obsession and job meet, as spy mutates to murderer, Royalist to Republican and Jonathan from frustrated functionary to avenging father.

Is she or isn't she?Ê Harlan Coben's Tell No One, faultlessly read by Stephen Weber, is a race-paced, pulse-pounder if ever there was one. When Dr. David Beck's young wife, Elizabeth, was brutally killed eight years ago, something died in him too. Then his world turns upside down and inside out. In three short days, Beck goes from being a dedicated doctor, sleepwalking through his own life, to a man who has seen a ghost, received e-mails from the dead, become a suspect in two murders, assaulted a police officer, is on the run from the law and has enlisted the aid of a known drug dealer. And if that's not enough, he's being hounded by a cool FBI agent on one side and a strange Asian-American with cement-hard hands that torture for the fun of it on the other. What's driving Beck, and all the others, is the shaky possibility that Elizabeth is still alive and if that's true, what's false? Summer sizzle Eric Jerome Dickey's latest, Between Lovers, read by Richard Allen, is hot stuff and X-rated! The mystery here is how three hip, smart 30-somethings will sort out their complicated, interconnected love lives, not to mention their sensibilities and sexuality. There's a lot of searching, soul and otherwise, as the best-selling Dickey tells a good story and adds his special brand of wisdom. Definitely not for the kids.

Sukey Howard reports on spoken word audio each month.

It's summer vacation time again, when both parent and child try to wile away the hours while they're getting where they're going. We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: travel in cars, planes and trains can be turned into real fun in the sun if you and your about-to-be-bored offspring listen to any of […]

he 18th century was an age like no other. Cold blooded and cynical on the one hand and touchingly optimistic on the other, it was a time of social, scientific and political upheaval. The Music of the Spheres, Elizabeth Redfern's first novel, combines the elements of mystery and history to produce a masterful piece of period suspense fiction set against the aftermath of the French Revolution.

When the monarchy toppled in France, no crowned head in Europe rested easy without a network of espionage agents. England was no exception, with its own spies and rumors of foreign agents who infiltrated every walk of life to lay the groundwork for a French invasion.

Redfern's central character is Home Office agent Jonathan Absey, a spy-catcher who had served his country well in hunting down England's enemies. His inside track to promotion and his peace of mind are destroyed by the murder of his 15-year-old daughter, Ellie; catching her killer becomes his reason for living. Jonathan loses his balance on the tightrope between personal and professional duty when a series of murders of red-haired young women, so painfully reminiscent of his daughter, point not only to French spies but to a sadistic killer in their midst. In order to solve the mystery of his daughter's death, Jonathan must track down the murderer of the other girls. The trail leads him to a group of French expatriates and their British friends, amateur astronomers who hide their personal demons behind a faade of scientific fascination with the mysteries of the solar system. Jonathan's intuition tells him that this seemingly harmless group of stargazers conceals spies, possibly traitors, and almost assuredly, a psychotic killer.

Like Patrick Suskind's Perfume and David Liss' A Conspiracy of Paper, this intensely atmospheric historical suspense novel is alive with the sights and sounds of the day. The author's years of research allow her to draw on a wealth of period detail from 18th century medicine, mathematics, astronomy and the British government's secret intelligence network, including the science of encryption. Solidly grounded in the history of a perilous time, the novel's imagery and characterization bring 18th century London to life with its contrasts of wealth and squalor, poverty and power, and people it with a compelling cast of finely drawn characters acting out an intricate and powerful human drama.

Mary Garrett reads and writes in Middle Tennessee.

he 18th century was an age like no other. Cold blooded and cynical on the one hand and touchingly optimistic on the other, it was a time of social, scientific and political upheaval. The Music of the Spheres, Elizabeth Redfern's first novel, combines the elements of mystery and history to produce a masterful piece of […]

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