These companion novels -- by turns touching, compassionate and humorous -- tell the stories of Jack and Brenda Bowman. In all the years of their marriage they have hardly ever been apart.
In THE WIFE'S STORY, Brenda, now forty years old, and who has been surprised to discover a source of creative energy, is about to spend a week away from their home in a Chicago suburb to attend a craft convention in Philadelphia. It is her first trip alone. Removed from her familiar environment, all the gathering emotions that have unsettled her life over the last few years are focussed and bring her to a crisis. Brenda is vulnerable in a strange city. She is also ready to grasp whatever experiences come her way.
In THE HUSBAND'S STORY, back in Chicago, Jack faces his own crisis. It is the first time he has been left to cope on his own. He is immobilised by self-doubt, beginning to question his worth and the value of his work as a historian. Suddenly, in that one week, his world falls apart. He has to deal with an attempted suicide, a marital breakdown and, not least, their two difficult children. In the process, he manages to work out his feelings and to learn something about himself.
"A perfect little gem of a novel."â€”The Toronto Star
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Carol Diggory-Shields is the author of many works for children including the poetry booksLunch Money, Almost Late to School, andAfter the Bell Rings. She currently works as a childrens librarian and previously worked with children as a recreational therapist. She lives in northern California.
Shields ( The Stone Diaries , Fiction Forecasts, Dec. 13) delivers a tour de force with these companion novels examining the two halves of one 20-year marriage. Quiltmaker Brenda Bowman leaves her home in a Chicago suburb to attend a crafts convention in Philadelphia. Aware of her lack of independent experience of the world, she is elated by this chance to escape from routine. The convention leaves Brenda wide-eyed with wonder. She is thrilled to share a room with the renowned quilter Verna Glanville, but enters to find Verna in the midst of a sexual encounter. Brenda becomes increasingly intimate with a kind man attending a metallurgists' convention, whose life reveals to her the variety of arrangements people make in their marriages. All of this is set against the background of meetings on crafts: one lecturer, on the Freudian interpretation of common quilting patterns, says the Star of Bethlehem represents "an orgasmic explosion." Back home with their two adolescent children, historian Jack Bowman is struggling with demons. After working for several years on a book about the trading practices of Native Americans, he sees an announcement about a book on the same subject written by an ex-lover. His best--and perhaps only--friend, Bernie Koltz, has been deserted by his wife and shows up to sleep on his couch. Later, a neighbor, an affected drama critic, attempts suicide after reading a scathing review of his performance in an amateur production of Hamlet . Jack is as introspective as Brenda is practical, and were it not for Shields's inventive specificity, their views could serve as textbook illustrations of the differences between male and female thought. Brenda grows at breakneck speed, getting a jolt of reality yet retaining her sweet sense of openness to the world. Shields chooses language carefully. In remembering the one moment in their marriage when she felt a "lapse of love," Brenda reflects that "she had been assailed by a freak visitation, and preserved the knowledge that it could happen again." Jack muses at one point that, just as a written record of events can never express history, "a marriage licence wasn't the history of a marriage." As Shields handily demonstrates here, a marriage is the culmination of a million tiny moments, and she strings them together with intense cumulative power.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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