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Creek Walk and Other Stories

de Molly Giles

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In this breathtaking and unforgettable collection of fourteen stories, Molly Giles introduces us to women struggling in the everyday, and in elegant, poignant, and achingly true prose, observes the human condition.

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This relatively slim volume contains 14 acutely drawn stories about women, almost all of whom are marginalized and cut adrift by cultural expectations. Divorced, widowed or in unhappy marriages, with and without lovers, but mostly with kids to care for, these women fight to attain the feeling that their lives are relevant to those around them, or even to themselves. Much of what I found powerful in these stories was transmitted through Giles' ease with details, and the ways in which she always pulls back before her characters can descend in maudlin excess or self-pity.

"You could get a job anywhere," Dieter said.

I opened my mouth but did not cut him off. I liked being told that. I felt like a house cat who is being cooed to even as it's being dropped out the back door at bedtime. I'll look for an executive position in Paris, I thought. I'll see what's open in the South Pacific. I'll show her, I thought, and then I thought: no. Calm down. This has nothing to do with Lenora Press. She's a quiet, decent, hardworking, intelligent, and resourceful--child--but it's not her fault. It's not even their fault, the officers. I thought of the three men who had interviewed me for the promotion. One was a closet gay and one was an alcoholic and one was an old-fashioned skirt chaser. They were all depressed and out of shape, and facing retirement, and I wouldn't want to be them, or be like them, and it probably showed. That's what happened. It probably showed.

Shortly thereafter, her adolescent daughter gives her a consoling hug. After a brief sympathetic exchange . . .

I patted her, the way you do when you want someone to let go of you, and after a second she lifted her head and gave me one of those long, full, tragic looks she's picked up from television sitcom shows.

One or two of the stories have a touch of magical realism to them, as well. This collection was published in 1996, and I wondered if they would turn out to be timepieces in some ways. But I didn't get the feeling that the issues these stories deal with, or the way Giles presents them, were dated at all. Though I'll say that it seems very strange to even be considering the possibility that something published in 1996 could be dated. 1996 was yesterday, if by "yesterday" one means almost a quarter century ago!

One point of full disclosure. Molly Giles was on the faculty of San Francisco State University when I was working on my MA Degree in Creative Writing there. I never took a seminar with her, but she did substitute for one of my seminars when the teacher had to step away for a few weeks for health issues. Everybody in the program liked her, and she liked the one story of mine she had to read for that seminar. ( )
  rocketjk | Feb 4, 2020 |
I loved these stories; they're beautiful, complex, sensitive, and wonderfully crafted. The phrase that Publishers Weekly used -- "voice-driven" -- is extremely apt. But I have to admit that I like Giles' earlier collection, Rough Translations, a little more. Perhaps this is just my personal taste, but I found the earlier stories more enjoyable, mainly because of their sense of joie de vivre and their sparkling, full-of-life characters. Heck, even the story narrated by a woman on her deathbed was loaded to the rafters with joie de vivre. With this collection, the characters feel a little more run down, a little more defeated by life. Of course, the mere joyfulness of a story is no indicator of its quality, but I felt that what made the stories in Rough Translations really stand out was their sense of indomitable life and energy. With that energy reduced a notch (though certainly not absent), there's a little less to make the stories in Creek Walk stand out as brilliantly.

But heck, there are hardly any books in the world that I enjoyed as much as Rough Translations, so it's no faint praise to say that this collection is a close second to that one. And I thought also that I could detect some development in Giles' writing; where the best stories in her earlier collection focused on a single character, many of the stories in this book are centered around multiple characters and their relationships. And a couple of these stories -- "Talking to Strangers" and "The Writers' Model" -- show Giles moving into some new territories in terms of both subject matter and tone.

So by all means I recommend this book, and I hope you'll buy it. But I hope you'll buy Rough Translations too. ( )
  KarlBunker | Mar 30, 2014 |
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