Water Into Wine

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Norris’ first volume published in the Illinois Short Fiction Series, THE CHRISTMAS WIFE, was nominated for the prestigious PEN-Faulkner Award. Like the stories in that collection, those in the present volume examine characters at odds with their world and betrayed by those who should be closest to them.

These lonely figures may be of any age or economic station. The blind twelve-year-old Jeremy Silt is abandoned by his mother, a wealthy widow (“The Cormorant”). The poor heroine of the title story is left alone by her lover when he discovers that she is pregnant. Dave in “The Cloven Tree” deserts his wife of more than fifty years to pursue his dream of sailing around the world.

While poignantly commenting on frustrated dreams and empty lives, the stories do not all end unhappily. Seventy-eight-year-old Fanny Gideon manages to run away with the man she tried to elope with sixty-three years earlier and so escapes her heartless daughter (“Mrs. Moonlight”). Dave ultimately decides that he loves his wife more than he yearns for the sea, and the heroine of “Water into Wine” apparently finds a replacement for her reckless lover. Other characters, such as Jeremy Silt or Beth (“The Light on the Water”), are less fortunate and must bear “the burden of life” alone.

However they end, Norris’ tales and characters generally engage the reader’s attention. Though some of the selections go on too long or take unexpected twists, this volume maintains the tradition of the Illinois Short Fiction Series, which was established to publish the finest in contemporary American short stories.