Marianne Wiggins Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Marianne Wiggins’s work focuses largely on the decisions that women face—and make—throughout their lives. For example, most of the characters in Wiggins’s Herself in Love, and Other Stories (1987) are women searching for the meaning of life. Through her skill of expression with the magic and mystery of words, Wiggins creates her own distinctive language and uses her originality and diversity to make eccentric characters and implausible plots seem believable. In addition, when writing a collection of stories, she challenges herself to write a better, more in-depth plot for each subsequent story. Her writing is based on the belief that “it’s the role of writers to touch the nerve that otherwise, untouched, lulls [people] to complacency.” She has stated that she writes about what she fears, a tenet that she believes is the underlying provocation in the role of the writer.


Perhaps one of Wiggins’s greatest fears is that of going mad. In “Kafkas,” the mental condition of a young woman with a doctorate (presumably in philosophy) deteriorates noticeably while searching for a man by the last name of Kafka who will discuss philosophy with her. She goes about her search by calling information in major cities throughout the United States and asking for all the listings of male Kafkas. She then calls each one, looking for her soul mate, explaining that she is searching for a husband who can give her the name Fran Kafka.

When her sister, Dina, discovers (by way of a seven-hundred-dollar telephone bill) what Fran is doing, she confronts Fran. It becomes clear at this point, however, that regardless of whether this project started off as a mere amusement, it has become very serious indeed. When Dina tells Fran that she must leave, Fran replies that she cannot, “They’ll kill me, Dina. Can’t you hear them? There are Indians out there.”

“Green Park”

Similarly, an undercurrent of violence and madness runs through “Green Park,” in which a woman takes back her married lover (who had left her for his wife) only to plan a way of avenging her previous hurts. The power of the story lies in the chilling way in which the main character never lets on to her lover the pain and rage that she is feeling.

As her lover carefully shaves her legs, the main character thinks to herself about what it would be like if he cut her. The reader is held in thrall waiting for the slip that will lead to thered ribbon, a bright racine vine in the water, a shimmering curtain, her blood, unfurling itself like a shoot, turning the water not crimson or brilliant, but soft pink and pearly and rose.

His comment that he “gardened like hell to forget” her leads to her thought that there is “an instant when she might have said that he’s cut her.”

“Among the Impressionists”

“Among the Impressionists” also speaks about lost love, although it is love of a much more fleeting, imaginary kind. Lucy is an elderly woman who fantasizes during her daily trip to the National Gallery (the story is set in London) that she meets a different artist (and sometimes more than one) each day. One day, it is Edgar Degas; another, it is Camille Pissarro. To each artist whom she meets, Lucy tells him—or her, for Lucy often meets Mary Cassatt—that she is meeting her lover.

Lucy’s rendezvous, however, is nothing more than a pathetic re-creation of a onetime meeting with a young man whom she dismissed rather abruptly, being too shy to converse with him. Her missed chance has left her, fifty years later, worn down by “haunting regrets.” As a love story, “Among the Impressionists” is extremely tragic: a life wasted on a memory. Wiggins finishes the story with Lucy’s description to Édouard Manet of what she and her lover do each day when they meet:We look at each other. We stare and we stare until the edges of the things around us start to grow invisible. Until the world itself begins to grow invisible, until the only thing we see is what exists between two lovers.

With this fantasy, Lucy has been able to insulate...

(The entire section is 1704 words.)