Crosscurrents and Other Stories, the first collection by Gerry Wilson, reads as well as most literary lights, and for me it brought to mind the works of Alice Munro. Here are tales of women in every state and stage of life, struggling with problems common to females everywhere. Though the situations and complexities feel familiar, and Wilson addresses issues that are all too real, each of these women feels complete as a character, responding to life's circumstances in her particular way.
I was intrigued by the setting of the first story, Mating, in which a woman seeks safety and love with a man running a failing animal refuge in Florida, a stranger who saved her drunken self from an assault and who also starves the animals and mistreats them. The black leopard, the orangutan, the bobcat, in their stinking cyclone-fence cages, are as hungry for meat as she is desperate for love. She has run from an ugly existence into the arms of an abuser. As she gets clean and clearer, and he slowly destroys the refuge, she gains morality and strength enough to make a break for the animals' freedom and her own. Here, as throughout this book, the author's use of language is spare and genuine, so that her characters' transformations, though perhaps not a surprise, are compelling and believable.
In the title story, Crosscurrents, she creates a couple struggling with infertility. They take an excursion that turns into tragedy, and along the way come face to face with their own critical assumptions about others—including a poor woman, seemingly careless with her children, or perhaps just exhausted, and a little girl with Down Syndrome. The transformation of judgment/fear into compassion by way of unexpected intimacy with strangers is not a new story, but Wilson brings it alive in a searing way that makes it revelatory once again. At the same time she nudges us to look at ourselves, our attitudes and assumptions.
The plotting is direct, and each of the stories in Wilson's collection captures feeling and change. There is a nurse having an affair with a surgeon. She won't take the hint that it's over without awful humiliation. There's a second wife who must abruptly take on a teenage runaway stepchild, a prodigal who is pregnant and broke. And there's an aunt who rears her orphaned niece with love, but out of fear does not tell the truth of her sister's death. A young farm wife whose son was stillborn faces her husband's excruciating inability to share feelings or control. An ex-wife and a new wife and their husband-in-common share the experience of becoming grandparents. And there are more. All of Wilson's women engaged me fully with their ordinary and complex selves. And I was glad to read an author who recognizes the powerful lessons women learn as they respond to life's always astonishing twists.
Short fiction being what it is, Wilson gives just a glimpse of these lives. I wanted more at every ending, yet felt satisfied with the arc of her stories. These are women I know, ordinary women, some of them like me, and their situations are not exotic—except perhaps the animal refuge, and even that place had a certain normality. Crosscurrents and Other Stories is made rich with the truth of these women's experiences as the author has revealed them. It's a book to share, and to reread. Spread the word.
Gerry Wilson learned storytelling at her grandmother's knee in northern Mississippi. From there she became an English and creative writing teacher for over twenty years. Now she writes award-winning short and long fiction in Jackson, where she lives with her husband and their Siamese cat. You can find out more on her website.
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