Call me crazy, but it’s really hard to make the mental transition from a series of inter-related short stories that work as a novella told in the first person, to a series of disconnected short stories told by an omniscient third person narrator. But that’s my only beef with I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with my Daddy & other stories [Little, Brown], by award-winning author, Ellen Gilchrist—and it’s hardly worth complaining about so I figured I’d get it out of the way up front.
While each story stands on its own, the first five stories are really chapters of a novella, a beautiful, emotionally-rich profile of a girl’s love for her father, and the changes her family transitions through. One doesn’t read Gilchrist for a fast-paced, adventure-filled plot (although there’s a little of that in one story), but for the wisdom in the words, humor, and her firm grasp of simple, straight-forward English that turns the plainest Wyoming scene into a thing of beauty. Here’s a prime example:
…[I] lay there for a long time, thinking of the mountains and the hot middle of the earth and the moment I had stood on the pass with my father and known that the world was too beautiful to be believed. The world and what man has done with it, the roads we have built and dams and vehicles and hotels and hot tubs, the food we have grown and the horses we have tamed and skis and houses and shelter of any kind, lean-tos and tents and painted caves. Man and nature, nature and man. Wonders, wonders.
Ellen Gilchrist is funny in the same, direct way. She’s not trying to be clever, she’s just speaking the truth of her world:
The men weren’t afraid of me no matter what I did, but they didn’t like me to drink because it was so much trouble. Men don’t like trouble. They like maps on the walls and the furniture pushed back out of the way and meals on time and the dream of blow jobs. Men are so simple. That’s why I like them.
Stories like “Götterdämmerung, In Which Nora Jane and Freddy Harwood Confront Evil in a World they Never Made,” feel eerily on-the-money with today’s terrorism-filled news headlines. She wrote the story prior to September 11, 2001, and she’s included an author’s note expressing her sorrow for the real-life events and explaining this story as coincidence, not prescience.
All Ellen Gilchrist’s stories are stories of sorrow on the outside, and the wild, uncontrolled truth of love inside, at the core. Wonders, wonders.