Shirley Ann Grau Essay - Grau, Shirley Ann (Vol. 9)

Grau, Shirley Ann (Vol. 9)

Grau, Shirley Ann 1929–

An American novelist and short story writer, Grau is a regionalist author whose territory is the South. She is noted for her precise characterizations and her ability to convincingly present multiple points of view. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, 1-4, rev. ed.)

The Wind Shifting West [is a collection of] eighteen stories ranging in setting from an unspecified South to the east coast. The stories are thoroughly professional throughout, completely competent from beginning to end, but slightly disappointing: I sometimes felt that I'd read several of them before under many different professional names and in many magazines.

On the other hand, Miss Grau certainly knows what she's about, she knows how to build a scene, she knows how to move her characters around and how to dispose of them at the proper time. She is at her best, it seems to me, when her angle of vision is that of a girl or a woman, as it is in the very good title story of a wife's casual introduction to adultery with her brother-in-law; or in "The Beach Party," in which a teen-aged girl is introduced to dates and to death; or in what seems to me her best story, "The Way Back," a relatively brief, unpretentious and completely convincing depiction of the end of an affair.

The collection is also highlighted by two effective, low-keyed stories centering around white-black relationships and problems. "Eight O'Clock" depicts a racial disturbance as viewed through the eyes and consciousness of a young black child; "The Other Way" concerns the only black child in a recently-integrated class.

When she tries too hard or strays too far from the usual, I find Miss Grau less convincing. "The Patriarch," reminiscences of an eighty-five-year-old egoist, is entertaining but seems preposterous. "Three," about a college student, her husband, and the ghostly apparition of her first husband who was killed in Vietnam, is a valiant effort that doesn't come off; "The Last Gas Station," surreal and apocalyptic, I found silly and unconvincing; and "That Lovely April," the author's fling at old-fashioned "sothren gothic," generates some early tension and suspense but ends up a bore. (pp. 723-24)

William Peden, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor, © 1974 by The University of the South), Fall, 1974.

[Evidence of Love] is an elaborated study of a father and a son whom [Grau] first introduced in The Patriarch, a short story published several years ago. Spare, and dry to the point of aridity, the narrative portraits emerge in three separate sections related, in turn, by Edward Milton Henley,… his son Stephen,… and Stephen's wife, Lucy….

As the contours of these three destinies take shape, one waits, with mounting impatience and finally in vain, for something in the proceedings to catch fire. Though the idea of the novel is engaging enough—allowing for immediacy and detail in the self-portraits, variety in the incidents and in the settings their reflections recapture—the totality is curiously flat and uninspired. To be sure, the book has its moments; sparks fly especially in Lucy's section, perhaps because the author is most in touch with the rhythms of a female sensibility. It is difficult to say exactly what goes wrong in Evidence of Love. Peopled with characters resurrected from a previous work, the novel is obviously an investigation of lives [Grau] has found compelling. Alas, there is very little here to make us agree that she should have found them so. (p. 28)

Jane Larkin Crain, in Saturday Review (© 1977 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), February 19, 1977.

I have never experienced the appeal which many other readers have discovered in Grau's work: Grau always has seemed to me a pedestrian, distinctly effortful novelist. Evidence of Love strikes me as her least impressive book. The history of a rich Louisianian, his son, and his daughter-in-law, the novel means, I gather, alternately to shock and to console us. The excesses of Grau's characters are tame enough, though, involving as they do nothing more terrible than coldness, blasphemy, calculation, egotism, lust, sexual unconventionality. This will seem a provocative catalogue of energies but in Grau's heavy hands all the quotients of psychologically aberrant behavior somehow do not occasion response. Gide's Michel, Conrad's Kurtz, Mann's von Aschenbach conceive of their own extremity as a resource and a project. Grau's Edward Milton Henley wants only, like an errant schoolboy, to feel entertained. Stephen Henley wants simply to be left alone. Lucy Henley wants just to want something. Nor is Grau significantly less puerile than her tedious characters. The novel is scarred by repeated authorial pronouncements upon the fragility of love, the evanescence of life's structures and meanings, the general vapidity of humankind. For example, Grau has the novel's heroine remark about her daughter-in-law: "She thinks exactly what every nearly middle-aged mother of two children thinks … Nothing at all." An arrogance so comfortable as this—authorial as well as fictitious—hardly can seem to us authoritative upon the subject of love and its evidences.

Whether she undertakes to unsettle us by dismissing the possibilities of love or to console us, as she tries to do in the novel's third section, by approving of the diversity and resilience of the human spirit, Grau manages only, I fear, to define the pronounced limitations of her own sensibility. I know of no other established American writer who teaches one less. (p. 444)

Peter Glassman, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1977 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXX, No. 3, Autumn, 1977.