WIDOW: STORIES by Michelle Latiolais

Book Quote:

“She knows she is beginning to marmorealize into the character called “widow,” untouchable, dark, by definition unhappy, sexless. Her body is fighting for her, for her, for some existence it recognizes as oxygen, water, sustenance.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (APR 07, 2011)

There is a legend of the thorn bird; as it impales itself and dies, it rises above its own agony to outsing the nightingale and the whole world stills to listen. As humans face death – our own or our most beloved – the best writers have the ability to rise up and eloquently sing. I speak, of course, of Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, of Francisco Goldman in Say Her Name, of David Vann in Legend of a Suicide. And now, Michelle Latiolais takes her place in that very top tier of talented writers.

Ms. Latiolais masterly interweaves stories of life after her husband Paul’s death with other tales: the complex eroticism experienced by a woman visiting a male strip club with her lover, the trials of traveling to Africa with an anthropologist husband who is researching the unusual eating habits of aboriginals, young children who entice an ancient aunt to craft shapes out of moistened bread crumbs. In a few sparse words, she is able to capture a deep and complex emotion.

Take the eponymous title story. Ms. Latiolais writes, “Sometimes wandering is not better; it’s the horror of having no place she is going, no place he needs her to be, wants her to be, no one wanting her the way he wanted her. Then she sleeps, long blacked-out hours, her head beneath pillows, the quilt, and when she wakes, her pink pearls, sinuous on the vanity, comfort her…”

Or her story “Crazy,” when it dawns on a wife that her husband – a drama professor – is unfaithful: “Benson knew an audience at his back when he had one, and he never touched her, never even leaned down to kiss her on the cheek—blameless—but this was how she, his wife in the window, knew. All theater people hugged and kissed all the time. They were crazy for it.”

Tales of loss and betrayal – true and fictionalized – are interspersed with sensuous tales and images, of pink porcelain saucers with earthenware lips folded in and fluted out, spawning erotic fantasies…of exotic meals of lamb stew with garlic and baby lima beans, ladled over buttered couscous…of fine fabrics…of longing.

And throughout, Ms. Latiolais reveals a love affair with words, the aural and etymological echoes , the mouth-sounds, the ravishing beauty. This is a writer who reflects on her wording (and whose characters do as well) and who also understands the limitations of words when strong emotions render them useless.

The writing positively pulsates with pain and beauty, with heartbreak and reverence, with alienation and survival. In short, it is stunning writing, courageous writing; as Ms. Latiolais dances and weaves her way through her grief, it is only in the last story, “Damned Spot,” that we, her readers, learn the reality of Paul’s death. By then, we are invested enough so that our hearts shatter into little pieces.

Some of the pieces in this collection were written long before Paul died; others were written in response to his death. All provide compassionate insight and flinching detail and position Ms. Latiolais as a writer to be reckoned with.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 10 readers
PUBLISHER: Bellevue Literary Press (February 1, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Michelle Latiolais
EXTRAS: Publisher page on WidowExcerpt
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April 7, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Short Stories

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