Tongues of Flame

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The eleven stories in this collection are about the Deep South in the 1980’s as well as the universal themes of hope, suffering, and love. Three black children spit on the dewberries they have picked before presenting them to the woman for whom their mother had cooked and cleaned. A young woman is shocked into sensitivity when she learns that the purpose of her frail mother-in-law’s arduous shopping trip is to purchase a dress in which to be buried. A lonely old judge is saddened to realize that not all his acquaintances regard his magnificent amaryllis with the same awe as does he; indeed, even his own perception of it begins to change. An elderly woman has scrimped and saved to buy a tombstone for her deceased husband, only to learn that he was unfaithful throughout their marriage. In the title story, a woman’s childhood church is set on fire by an alcoholic whom she had hoped to reform.

Mary Ward Brown’s work has been included in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1983 and 1984. She writes smoothly and succinctly, expressing only what is necessary to capture the appropriate mood. Her images are clear and fascinating: insects say their “mantras"; a patent leather purse “flirts with light"; a stray dog has a “motley bargain-basement coat.”

These stories are powerful testimony to the author’s understanding of the South and of human nature. They will appeal to a broad range of readers who want stories written with skill and feeling.