Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Capturing the voice of the opposite sex

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Stewart O'Nan's.
Check out my reviews of  "Snow Angels," "A Prayer for the Dying"and "The Good Wife."

My latest foray into his works was with "Emily, Alone," the sequel to "Wish You Were Here."

We follow the widowed Emily Maxwell, whose grown children are far away, who feels unconnected to her grandchildren, whose comfortable routine is shaken up when her sister-in-law has a health scare.

It's very much a slice of life. A life shared no doubt by countless widows.

But what struck me is how beautifully he has captured the voice of an older, widowed mother and grandmother.

As Emily ruminates while looking for a photo: "The question of how she should be remembered was not one she wanted to contemplate. Her life had been happy, for the most part, her disappointments mild, common, yet when she recalled herself, she did so with a mix of self-righteousness and shame, holding up her worst moments against her best intentions. She would never forget the names she'd flung at Henry in her rages, or the times she's made her mother cry."

Or this as Emily thinks about her relationship with her daughter-in-law: "Emily likes to think she didn't need anything from Lisa, yet Lisa held the ultimate power over her - the ability to deprive Emily of time with Kenneth and her grandchildren. Even Margaret at her worst understood that family trumpeted their personal battles."

Or as she visits her husband's grave: "The slope was steeper than it appeared, and shadeless. Wanting to look nice for him, she'd worn the wrong shoes, and had to be careful, taking little mincing steps, carrying the cosmos out before her with both hands as if it were a hot casserole."
It strikes me as a pretty uncommon gift, this ability to masterfully craft characters of the opposite gender.

When I think back upon those characters who have really stuck with me for the most part they are women created by women or men created by men. There's Mrs de Winter in Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca;" there's Pip in Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations; " E.L. Doctorow's "Homer & Langley;" Anna in Jodi Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper;" ... I could go on and on.

It was more difficult to think of the reverse. I got Hester Prynne in Nathanial Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter."(Most likely because my son just read the book and the tale is fresh in my mind.)

I must just be trying to think too hard.

I'm sure I'm forgetting scads of favorite characters. Who can you remind me of?

- Tricia Ambrose 
Follow me on Twitter @triciaambrose

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