Volume 18 Number 5
The short story collection by Lois Braun, The Pumpkin-Eaters, touches the reader in myriad ways: it is at times spine chilling, sad, haunting. The losers lose and winners manage only to contain their pain. "Half of her smiled" from "The Right Company" perhaps describes this reader's feelings.
The characters in Braun's stories, a broad and varied spectrum of ages and personalities, live in their own private worlds on a stark and relentless prairie, each isolated in his or her own particular pain and loneliness without much joy. Hatred flares between those who owe each other love; more often a disconnectedness, an invisible wall, an irritable impatience or a robot smile separates parents and children, friends and even newlyweds.
Offers of care and empathy seem to get lost in wind that blows the soil off the land. The impoverished lives and failed land are reminiscent of Steinbeck's denuded fields or Faulkner's dark brooding. But the ironies are not all bleak and black: although powerful love is not able to be expressed, it is often felt and is in any case given. Teachers, policewomen, mothers, daughters and granddaughters touch other's lives with warmth. Do women have a monopoly on caring? Some of her men are gentle, too.
The title story, "The Pumpkin-Eaters," which is told through a child's eyes, reveals the pain of bad family relationships, hurt and anger where there should be love, and a stubborn refusal to compromise. My favourites are the sad title story and "Between Moon and Flax Fires," a mother's painful acceptance of her adopted daughter's need to search for her own identity and history.
Some of the stories charm, many disturb; almost all engage the reader in some way. Braun's prairie may not be everyone's but it is well worth exploring for the familiar and the different. Read and discover. Recommended for teen through adult.
Grace Shaw, Vancouver Community College, Vancouver, B.C.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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