Think of England

Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Reason read: Dark was born in December; read in her honor.

Confessional: I read this so fast I didn’t start a blog or take many notes. It’s like a bullet train that sped by me once I finished reading and jumped off.

Jane MacLeod’s life is chronicled in this short first novel from Alice Elliott Dark. We first meet nine year old Jane in rural Pennsylvania where she aspires to be a writer. Under bed covers and behind doors, she writes stories about her family. [Confessional: For a moment this activity reminded me of Harriet, the Spy. By comparison, Jane is more introspective and less mean.] Jane claims she can remember the moment she was born. She carefully watches her parents and their teetering-on-rocky relationship. As young as she is, Jane understands not all is perfect in their household. She can tell when her mother has had too much to drink and she listens closely when the adults talk snipe at each other openly; when her parents forget they are not alone in the room. After a tragic accident, the story jumps many years and Jane is now far away from her family and living in London as a twenty-something writer. She has befriended a few artists, who encourage her poetic endeavors, and a married man who encourages her romantic ones. Fast forward a bunch of years and Jane is back in the States, now living in New York with a daughter of her own. Reunited with family, Jane comes full circle in her quest to understand the tragedy which separated them so long ago.

The title comes from Lady Hillingdon’s 1912 sad journal when she revealed she thinks of England whenever she must have unwanted sex with her husband. Yup. So there’s that. Jane’s mother uses the phrase whenever there is a setback of any size.

Lines I liked, “She was a slow burning shadow” (p 21), “She fought back by competing; if her mother made her feel small, she’d make herself even smaller” (p 32), “They stared at each other across a chasm of diverging logic, all the misunderstandings between them crammed between rings of the phone” (p32), and “Ghosts could cross water, after all” (p 184). There were dozens of other lines I would like to share, but this will have to do. Just read the book. Seriously.

Author fact: Think of England is Dark’s first novel.

Book trivia: when trying to search for Think of England the book, I kept coming up with K.J. Charles. I like that Dark is a little obscure.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dark’s writing “highly polished and controlled (but frequently emotionally charged” (Book Lust p 1).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).

Naked to the Waist

Dark, Alice Elliott. Naked to the Waist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Naked to the Waist is a compilation of six short stories with the title story being the last. While each story varies from the next there are a few underlying themes common to them all. All include women who are in relationships not easily defined. The relationships that surround them are slightly domineering.

“Interior Studio” – Two artists struggling to make ends meet; told from the point of view of the painter wife with a dominant writer husband.

“The Good Listener” – a writing teacher gets caught in a love triangle that turns into a love square.

“Plans for Plants” – a couple is moving apart. They don’t know each other anymore.

“The Comfortable Apartment” – an abused wife has the opportunity to leave her husband thanks to her sister…but does she?

“Buddy” – for me, this one was the most disturbing. A man takes his girlfriend’s puppy while she is in France for a funeral. He never wanted her to get a dog, and that’s all I’ll say about that one.

“Naked to the Waist” – Lucy is torn between wanting her best friend, a homosexual, to want her and wanting to move on with her life.

Telling lines, “She threw herself into love as though she were diving under water in at attempt to make herself disappear from the surface of the planet” (p 20), “She was coiled coolly around his mind” (p 92), It shocked him to see her alone, and he realized it was the first time he had observed her out of the range of his influence” (p 162″, and “This was my cue to placate him with one of our private games, and I did” (p 131).

As an aside, adultery is a common theme in Dark’s stories. I found it striking that when two different characters in two different stories want to know how their partners are getting away with the affair they ask the same questions, “how are you managing this?”

Reason read: November is National Writing Month and I’m honoring the short story this month.

Author fact: Dark also wrote In the Gloaming and Think of England both of which are on my list.

Book trivia: Naked to the Waist is made up of six short stories and oddly enough was not available in my area. I had to request it from Bangor, Maine.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A…Is For Alice” (p 1).