Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging
edited by R.A. Rycraft and Leslie What

Serving House Books, 2012. ISBN 978-0-983-82896-9.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 10/19/2012

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Elders; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

Editors R.A. Rycraft and Leslie What collected thoughts on growing old from twenty-nine writers in the anthology, Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging. The diverse collection of poetry and essays range from witty to poignant with many stops in between.

Roisin McLean's essay, "White Chin Hair & a Lonely Female Cardinal," chronicles breast cancer and reminds us that life is not a never-ending promise. The humorous "The Theory of Aging Relativity" by Leigh Anne Jasheway states, "The older we get, the faster time flies, except when you are near a black hole like a doctor's waiting room or the Department of Motor Vehicles."

Supriya Bhatnagar's essay, "Memories and Misgivings," deals with the deaths of her mother, father, sister, and finally her best friend to cancer after a brief seven-month battle. The author shares her difficulty in coming back to her writing after these losses. The formulaic answers of religion did not provide comfort: "I don't care if the soul lives on; I want the body with it." Her discouragement extends to her exercise routine. "The joints in my body do not care how thin I am. They only know how old I am and so have started acting up."

Dorianne Laux writes in her haunting poem, "Dark Charms":

Eventually the future shows up everywhere:

The clear water we drank as thirsty children
still runs in our veins. Stars we saw then
we still see now, only fewer, dimmer, less often.

We continue to speak, if only in whispers,
to something inside us that longs to be named.
We name it the past and drag it behind us,
bag like a lung filled with shadow and song.

Carol Smallwood's "A Late Summer Diary" may seem like a simple exercise in awareness. But if you actually try to do it—even for just one day—it's an awakening of our senses. She writes intriguingly as if in a stream of consciousness: "We should dwell on the moment but only children can..." And regarding Labor Day: "My daughter will rejoin the work force when her youngest starts school, and I told her to get a Superwoman cape, but she had no idea what I meant and just rolled her eyes with a skeptical smile." Her daughter would soon learn what all working mothers who'd gone before her already know—who the real superheroes are!

I had to close the book and take a walk after reading Clare MacQueen's essay, "Fragrance of Levity," the haunting story of a powerless mother of an adult daughter in a troubled relationship. Eventually she has to go the morgue to identify her daughter. It is worthwhile reading though unforgettably sad and disturbing.

Those of us who somehow thought we'd never really be old realize how quickly the years slipped by as we approach the winter of our lives. A team of talented writers share profound thoughts and experiences on aging in Winter Tales II. The tempo changes from one essay and poem to the next, smiles to tears to a final sigh: Oh yes, those writers understand, they know.

R.A. Rycraft has published stories, poems, reviews and essays in numerous journals and anthologies. Winner of the Eric Hoffer best new Writing Editor's Choice award in 2008 and a Special Mention for the 2010 Pushcart Prize, Rycraft is chair of the English department at Mt. San Jacinto College in Menifee, California.

Leslie What is a Nebula Award-winning writer and the author of a novel, Olympic Games, and two short story collections: Crazy Love and The Sweet and Sour Tongue. Crazy Love earned starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She teaches in the Writers Program at UCLA Extension and is the fiction editor of Phantom Drift, a journal of New Fabulism. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies and journals.

(See another review of this book, here)

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