Form and Content
Nine Women, Shirley Ann Grau’s first book after Evidence of Love (1977), is a collection of short stories featuring the lives of nine distinct women, most of whom live a detached and often superficial life. The stories are tightly crafted, with few characters and spare character description. Grau focuses on the way in which each woman copes with a crisis in her otherwise vacuous life and manages to create meaning from it.
“The Beginning,” the first story in the collection, features two African American women—Mother and her cherished daughter, Princess. As protector, the mother treats her daughter as a little queen, the jewel of the Lotus. The mother who speaks in a “light, high whisper” is a good seamstress, smuggling cloth to dress her daughter elegantly as she reassures her that her absent father is really a Hindu from Calcutta. A resourceful, steely woman, the mother eventually establishes her own dress shop, using her daughter as a regal mannequin. Whatever disguised life she may have led, Princess becomes strong and resilient because her “castle and kingdom” are internalized.
In “Hunter,” Nancy Martinson, the only survivor of an airplane crash, faces the guilt of her fate by trying to find a way to die herself. In her warped sense of meaning, she tells Sam Flanders, a news reporter, that she should have died with her family but that instead she fell through a hole in time and now must find the right spot to enter. Thus, she anticipates death as a way to correct an irregularity. She flies obsessively, hoping to participate in an airplane crash that will ensure her death.
In “Housekeeper,” Mrs. Morton tells a story of her routine care of Dr. Hollisher, a man of sequential and obsessive interests who was unaware of her. Five days a week for nine years, she endured the work by concentrating on her memories and removing herself intellectually until the memories wore out. One day after she had retired from housekeeping, she learned that the doctor had disappeared forever in his dory and left his house to her. In the meantime, she had learned to live a rich life, still taking care of others.
“Letting Go” presents Mary Margaret MacIntyre, who at twenty-nine...
(The entire section is 920 words.)