By: Sandra Worsham
Publisher: Third Lung Press
Publication Date: June 2018
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Women are the focus of most of the stories in Sandra Worsham’s collection of quiet, astute observations of emotion in action, life resurgent as friends and family pass, ambitions crashed, hopes dashed and hopes rehashed.
The book gets immediate traction with the tale of “The Traveling Shoe,” in which a group of female couples try to evoke smiles as one of their number slowly fades from incurable disease. Her courage and her friends’ ability to make each other laugh give the tragedy a sweet side. In “The Washer’s Husband,” a nice guy named Henry is forced to endure his wife’s obsession with cleanliness that finally leads to her dumping out his small drawer full of cherished objects. When he asks her if she’s going to be washing every day of their life together, he reports, “Her face became a veil.”
“The Second Mrs. Willis” is a young woman trapped in a loveless, moneyless, boring marriage to her out-of-work former English teacher, whose ennui is contrasted with the religious zeal of the heroine’s stepfather, a self-styled, annoyingly fanatical Preacher. A hairstylist argues with her sister over possession of a mother’s favorite, and only, boy doll, while privately mulling her recent, rather exciting discovery that she likes making love to girls.
Worsham resides in the town of Milledgeville, Georgia, and has used this as the literal setting for about half of these offerings. Though some of the stories could take place in Anywhere, USA, others are redolent of the southern ambience. In “The Vacuum Cleaner,” the satisfying last long story of the aggregation, Worsham takes an up-close look at Southern culture in the multigenerational relationships among a mother, daughter, and maid, all of whom share admiration for a fancy Hoover. “Esther’s Real People” is a smile-evoking stream-of-consciousness rant written in delightfully southern cadence, from a woman who was sucked into a Mary Kay-type cosmetic sales career, until disillusionment seeped in and she’s back at her supermarket job. Some of the stories are wrapped around an impending death; others revisit the conflicts of a problematic childhood as they are revived in a confused or problem-laden adulthood. There is a sense of purposeful mystery in Worsham’s composition, as some characters seem to inhabit more than one scenario; and there are repeated phrases - notably the plaintive, relationship-baggage-laden query, “Is everything alright? Between us?”
All of Worsham’s stories open and close with complex pen and ink drawings created by her partner, illustrator Letha Hawkins. Worsham has garnered success with her short pieces, published in Chattahoochee Review and Carolina Quarterly among others, and an award-winning memoir, Going to Wings. She has a strong prose sense and the enviable ability to convert a mundane object like a vacuum cleaner, a doll or a shoe into a potent symbol.
Quill says: This is intelligent, introspective storytelling with some wry and even hilarious moments, centered on real people and their real dreams and fantasies.