Penelope Gilliatt’s short fiction illustrates the twentieth century phenomenon of the de-centered narrative. Breaching the Aristotelian holism of mythos (plot) comprising beginning, middle, and end, de-centered fiction disregards plot and eliminates one or two of the narrative stages. De-centering is not exclusively a matter of removing the middle and either leaving only beginning and end or presenting only the removed middle as the narrative. Rather, de-centering eschews the triad that is defined by a middle.
Other of Gilliatt’s favored themes include Slavic culture, gourmet cooking and dining, appreciation of music (especially opera and modern music), language study (English, Greek, Latin, and modern foreign languages), dentistry, and the superiority of human brainwork to computerized authority. Her short fiction is also incident with eccentric affairs of affection, notably May-December romances and grandparent-grandchild attachments.
Discernible in each of her collections of short stories, moreover, is a thematic or imagistic continuity. The exception is Twenty-two Stories, which merely culls representative selections from the five preceding collections. The skull motif informs What’s It Like Out?, with the word “skull” appearing in seven of the nine stories. In the two exceptions, “The Tactics of Hunger” and “Come Back If It Doesn’t Get Better,” a preoccupation with death substantiates the...
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