Crowning the Queen of Love

From the first story in Susan Welch’s CROWNING THE QUEEN OF LOVE, “The Time, the Place, the Loved One,” which explores the agony of watching one’s spouse slowly go insane, to the last, “Hatshepsut,” featuring a niece and her elderly gay uncle on a trip to Egypt, this collection focuses on unusual combinations of people in often bizarre circumstances. Perhaps the strangest is “Queen,” an interesting experiment in extended metaphor, which describes a family whose father studied as an entomologist but ended up as an exterminator; his seventieth birthday gathering and subsequent events are described through the eyes of one daughter as if the family were indeed a hive of bees or ants. These stories are powerful and evocative, but can also be extremely depressing, as if one really were receiving an ant’s eye view of the world.

“Broken Music,” which deals with a mother who is a Holocaust survivor and her daughter on a trip to visit the Polish concentration camp where the mother was incarcerated, and the last story, “Hatshepsut,” are perhaps the most upbeat stories of the collection, for in each there is a rapprochement between individuals in families and the promise of survival. Yet on the whole the collection inhabits a world where people are often unbearably and imaginatively cruel to each other for no reason other than, one supposes, their very humanness.

Perhaps the most disturbing story in the collection, “Darcy,” describes a bus trip during which a handicapped young woman with a foul mouth and mean ways infuriates all but one person on the vehicle, a pregnant woman for whom she provides an epiphany. The writing is compelling, yet the characters are so compulsively unkind that it is painful to read. An indication of the power of these stories is the fact that they live on in the reader’s mind, whether one wants them to or not.