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The stories in Family Ties are structured around an experience of epiphany. A single character, almost always female, has her normal, comfortable (and usually socially acceptable and domestic) existence shaken by what often seems to the reader to be an insignificant event (such as the sight of a blind man chewing gum in “Love”). This event destroys the stable lifestyle she has known and takes her to a new level of awareness concerning her own life in particular and, frequently, life in general. Though it is significant that the characters achieve a new awareness concerning their existence, it is equally significant, as some critics (Rita Herman and Marta Peixoto) have pointed out, that most of the characters return to their everyday existence without converting their temporary state of heightened awareness into a permanent metaphysical leap (as Herman calls it). To make such a leap would be either impossible on a societal level (for a woman in particular) or simply too frightening on an existential level (perhaps plunging the character into the “danger of living” to which Lispector refers in “Love”).

Hand in hand with the concept of epiphany in the stories in Family Ties, both with respect to the nature of the stories themselves and to the reputation the stories enjoy among both readers and critics, is the language and style with which they are written. Lispector’s subjective, lyrical prose, replete with metaphor and ambiguity, endows many of the stories with a dreamlike quality as the author focuses on the rarefied world of her characters’ subconscious. In this way, form and content are blended perfectly in stories such as “Love,” “The Daydreams of a Drunken Woman,” and “The Imitation of the Rose.” Even the more “external” stories in Family Ties (such as “The Chicken” and “The Dinner”) possess a style, in syntax, word choice, and metaphor, that often leans more toward poetry than prose. Readers will not find a prose style that is conventional, straightforward, or free of metaphor and ambiguity, for metaphor and ambiguity are the most prominent elements of Lispector’s language. Instead, they will find narration that paints more than it photographs, suggests more than it tells, and often seems to hide more than it reveals. Readers may also find countless sentences, turns of phrase, and images that will stick in their memories long after the recollection of the story itself has faded, such as the final sentence of “Love” (“Before getting into bed, as if she were snuffing a candle, she blew out that day’s tiny flame”) or the description of the woman in “Happy Birthday” who, when cutting her cake, “dealt the first stroke with the grip of a murderess.” The stories of Family Ties, like virtually all Lispector’s other fiction, are rightfully as acclaimed for how they are told as for what they tell.

The inner focus of the stories in Family Ties and the lyrical prose with which they are told clearly place the collection within the context of the modern short story in general and Latin America’s “new narrative” (of which Lispector was one of Brazil’s earliest and most influential practitioners) in particular. Her works have sometimes been criticized for not being Brazilian enough, but this supposed weakness can be viewed as an actual strength: The universality of her thematic concerns allows her stories to be read and appreciated around the world.

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Critical Overview