We who Live Apart: Stories
In We Who Live Apart, Joan Connor returns to the dark New England of her earlier collection and the wry characters who inhabit it: a hunter who has spent too much time listening to the woods, a ferryman whose emotional seclusion leads to a doomed longing for a summer girl, a carnival diviner whose cards foretell her desertion, a corpse who, out of sheer meanness, will not stay below ground.
Although childlessness, divorce, and alcoholism are recurrent motifs that underscore the estrangement of many characters, the moods of the stories are rarely bleak. Humor figures in often, as do elements of the folktale and the supernatural. Despite the stylistic variety in these stories, there is a shared vision of isolation in which characters, wittingly and unwittingly, ensure their separateness and even come to treasure it. As the narrator says in "The Anecdote of the Island," "After a year of debate, it conduces to this: I watch you leave as you once watched me. Our cars separate at the base of a hill. You diminish to a speck in my rearview mirror. When I look for you, I stare into my own eyes looking for you. And I begin to think that what you want is not love but the hope for love. Its remoteness. Its shadow self. You linger in dark places."
Indeed, many of these characters linger in dark places, but without giving in to despair. In "October," a recovering alcoholic surprises herself and begins to risk the beginnings of reconnection. And in "Women's Problems," a character coping with the loss of her lover, and then her mother, manages to transmute loss to gain with the triumphant realization that she has become her mother and that, indeed, "Worse things could happen."
For these characters, their apartness is as often a choice as a consequence, but the choice has a consequence. When Bluebeard's wife escapes her murderous husband and her fairy-tale narrative in "Bluebeard's First Wife," she finds that "Ordinariness sat upon [her] shoulders like a weather-eroded gargoyle."
Whether these characters isolate themselves or find themselves isolated by nets of personal and communal history, they move to wisdom rather than despondency. Connor displays a keen ear for language and a mastery of prose rhythms and dialogue. Her writing, which is often lyrical in the best sense, amply repays the effort of rereading and reflection, and the variety of narrative techniques sustains the reader's interest.
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WE WHO LIVE APART: StoriesUser Review - Jane Doe - Kirkus
Thirteen polished stories on the physical and emotional isolation of men and women, set mostly in New England, where climate and temperament exacerbate their sense of distance and alienation.The ... Read full review