The Stories of Alice Adams

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The fifty-three stories in this posthumous collection are mostly about women, often powerful women, and about negotiating love in its myriad forms. Although Alice Adams deftly details the trajectories that choices make manifest, inner life is the reality. Adams explores what it means to be human, with effortless shifts in geography and in time from one intriguing situation to another. Within this intimacy, readers may find themselves also shifting effortlessly, becoming aware—first with a start, then perhaps with a chuckle—that they are no longer reading about someone else’s experience but rather deepening awareness of their own.

Some situations appear stereotypic, such as the old woman living alone with her cat in “Raccoons;” the famous actress passing through the small Georgia town where she was born in “The Visit;” and the woman who knows she is too old to wait for the phone to ring, but does so anyway, in “Old Love Affairs.” But that is part of their charm as Adams explores, and honors, the wonders and the oddities that make each of her characters unique.

In “Winter Rain,” an American woman reflects on her student year in Paris, complete with Marxist friends and requisite love affair. The center of her memory is Mme. Frenaye, a formidable elderly woman in whose home the girl had rented a room for a time. She thinks of writing to Madame, sending pictures of husband, house, and children as if to convince her that the odd American girl who boiled tea over Sterno had grown up. Instead, she decides to leave the past where it is without interfering, and in doing so, her year comes alive again. This is just what Adams does in these stories, and no one is going to quibble about whose past it really is. Though readers may not necessarily have experienced all the situations that Adams write about, they are likely to recognize the emotions.