Bonneville Blue

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Joan Chase’s novels, DURING THE REIGN OF THE QUEEN OF PERSIA (1983) and THE EVENING WOLVES (1989), established her as a new voice in American fiction. Her debut novel was concerned with what one reveiwer called “the female matrix": the ways in which women influence and enrich each other’s lives, and how childhood impressions and images continue to touch adult women’s lives. She has been praised for the subtlety of emotion conveyed in her language, and her spare yet elegant style.

BONNEVILLE BLUE, her first collection of short stories, displays the same spare elegance and poetic prose that characterize her novels. In the title story, an amazing array of characters walk in, around, and through each other’s lives, helping to illuminate both the intense magic and mundane predicaments that grace and haunt them. Chase’s sure dialogue and the immediacy of the setting—a housing development outside Washington, D.C., during the Vietnam era—feed the compassion with which she examines human experience. The main character, Irene, rambles and plunges through her day, knocking on doors for the Heart Fund. She meets her daily frustrations head-on, revealing what tenacity, mercy, and love people are capable of, even as they suffer.

An unsolvable dilemma is defused somewhat by the narrator’s cautious recollections in “The Harrier.” A married woman living in a small Vermont town looks back on the intense passion she felt for a man younger...

(The entire section is 453 words.)