The Edge of Marriage: Stories
Reviewed by Annine Miscoe, Fri., Nov. 19, 1999
The Edge of Marriage: Storiesby Hester Kaplan
University of Georgia Press, 192 pp., $24.95
The Edge of Marriage, awarded this year's Flannery O'Connor Award, is a set of emotive short stories that invokes the disillusioned state of aging baby boomers at critical crossroads in their lives when there is no option of turning back. Like the tightly crafted stories of Raymond Carver and pre-postmodern O'Connor, the stark familiarity of commonplace structures, gestures, and tensions are keenly noted. But where Carver and O'Conner's sharply woven story structures reflect a more detached narrative voice, Kaplan's
disquieting stories are a confluence of emotive narration, precisely placed dialogue, and shadowed imagery that all meld to voice the solipsistic realities of her protagonists.
In "Dysaesthesia," a mother reflects on her self-imposed life of betrayal and broken dreams after she brings her disabled husband home from the hospital. "From Where We've Fallen" weighs a parent's inability to stop rescuing immature adult children. In "Would You Know It Wasn't Love," Walt, a college professor, watches helplessly as his beloved grown daughter brings home her broken marriage, while he copes with his aging, arthritic body.
In all of Kaplan's stories, the structures of home stand like firmly rooted edifices steeped in tradition, unwittingly taunting her characters, reminding them of their strained relationships and unfulfilled lives. This theme is given away in "The Spiral," where a spiral staircase, at first sight so elegant and fanciful, becomes a treacherous reminder of the pitfalls of falling in love with an image. At times, the emphasis on pitiable ruminations wears thin, but Kaplan's fluid style conveys a hint of satire and a touch of comic relief which saves her stories from drowning in nihilism. "Live Life King-Sized," the final and the most fully developed story, offers a compelling hint of possible resolution to the existential malaise that runs throughout this collection of stories. Here, Kip Thierry is detached and cynical, but is desperately trying to salvage his fledgling ocean resort property after a devastating hurricane. Ironically, he finds his redemption in an unlikely friendship with a man dying from AIDS who forces Kip to take a conscious stand, an act Kaplan's other characters could learn from.