Marianne Wiggins’ short stories contain characters who represent a vision of human beings psychologically damaged in the course of attempting to live what could be perceived as normal lives. Her characters are real, sometimes even biographical, and yet they are always fictional. For example, in “Stonewall Jackson’s Wife,” Wiggins is ultimately not interested in describing the historical times of Stonewall Jackson’s life and death, the behavior of his wife Anna, or what might have been if the first wife had not died. Instead, she offers a penetrating examination of the transformation that her characters have experienced. Wiggins also makes use of characters already established in literature or other art forms. In “Pleasure,” she recalls the wife of the biblical figure Lot in order to exemplify the human agony experienced by the older woman. In this story, the reader observes how a story is used to create a new fictional reality capable of portraying great pathos.
The inclusion of considerable humor is a hallmark of virtually all Wiggins’ writings. In “Gandy Dancing,” this humor is evident not only in the caricature portraits of the secondary characters but also in the despair represented by the foolish actions of Redcar. It must always be remembered, however, that the use of humor is not Wiggins’ goal but only a means of expressing the consequences of the main character’s actions.
The main purpose of the short stories included in this volume is to offer a penetrating examination of the human world. Wiggins is—and yet is not—a moralist. She makes an unrecognizable reality understandable and a fiction real. Her characters continue to exist past the end of each story, forcing each reader to continue contemplating her portrait of an emotionally damaged human being.