“The Stone Pear,” by Elizabeth Genovise

Elizabeth Genovise

Reviewed by Daniel James Sundahl

Elizabeth Genovise has yet to write a novel, but this fine short-story writer may soon accomplish that feat.  She’s the author of two short-story collections, A Different Harbor and Where There are Two or More, both reviewed in Southern Literary ReviewThe Stone Pear is a single story published by Anchor & Plume as a chapbook.

It’s a delightful coming-of-age story of an adolescent young girl, twelve years old to be precise, who conveys to readers the “spirit of her early childhood.”  She and her parents live on a hobby farm that, she remarks, became for her “infused with memory and desire.”  One should add to that “infusion” the word “grace.”

The point to be made is that Genovise has the aesthetic to create “spots of time,” key moments in a character’s life offered to the reader with more grace than one thinks technically possible.  Wordsworth, we know, believed there were key moments in a life that formed remarkable memories but were also akin to owning a feeling of being inside something important.  For Genovise to develop beyond single short stories, however, she must render the sequential development of her narrator’s consciousness, which is to say, represent the development of a gifted mind over time.

We come to know that the narrator is alone with her parents who married late in life but worked and loved as though they were “far younger than they were.” The narrator remarks presciently that she liked to think that, although a child, she had “some sense of this.”  This wonderful reflection is indicative of how the narrator “takes hold of things.”

With any coming of age story, however, there are not only defining spots of time but disturbing elements.  “I was always afraid,” she notes, “for there was a sense of impending disaster in our house that would not be shaken.”

Her mother’s cancer was in remission after a long and harrowing battle but it lies there, still dormant, waiting to be awakened.  Her mother had aged ten years and remission might not endure.  The cancer “sat with us.”

Such spots of time are incidents in our existence. One need not revisit Wordsworth to note how they bear the “burthen of the mystery,” that “heavy and weary weight.”  The poet, though, like the short story writer is obliged to see “into the life of things,” and abstinence is not to be applied to memory.

Help appears at the family hobby farm when Neil and Ashe arrive during the humid days of August.  “I have this picture of them,” she writes, “seared forever into my mind.  Ashe is walking origami, a crane unfolding herself; every move is delayed but beautiful, mired yet liquid, and her walk is a crane’s landing, just barely skimming the surface of the gravel beneath her feet.”

The description is fact, of course, but Genovise is generating and developing a motif faithful to anyone’s theory of both myth and language.  It’s the genesis, once again, of something that could become larger than a chapbook story; what’s being expressed, in other words, is a fertile seed found in figurative ideas, a magic circle even: images which are born from the need or the specific feeling of a critical moment in the narrator’s life, but of a fantasy.

Ashe is thin and her skin is translucent: the “white-gold strands of her hair are so light they are held aloft by the watery wind.”

Beside her is Neil, “an oak of a man, dark, bearded, a huge duffle bag slung over his shoulder.”

These are mind pictures, one might say.

The story concludes with the narrator telling the reader that later, “[she] would feel much more,” suggesting the story has not yet found its way forward in time, that awful burden we all share.  The future, in other words, is not a nameless presence but an outline grounded in the narrator’s consciousness which will not rest content until it finds expression and becomes mastered in slow degrees.

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