“An ambush in Vietnam, a hurricane, an unexpected suicide capping a birthday —all these might seemingly provide profound insights to any participant. Seemingly serves as the key word, however, in these and all eleven stories in Ely’s latest collection. His latest and his most hard-nosed collection to date, we want to add.”
ISBN: 978-1-60489-057-0 Trade paper: $16.95 Sale $8.50
ISBN: 978-1-60489-056-3 Library binding $28 Sale $14.00
Scott Ely was born in Atlanta, GA, and he moved to Jackson, MS when he was eight. He served in Vietnam (somewhere in the highlands near Pleiku). He graduated with an MFA from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He teaches fiction writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His previous book publications include STARLIGHT (Weidenfeld & Nicolson); PITBULL (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Penguin); OVERGROWN WITH LOVE (University of Arkansas Press); THE ANGEL OF THE GARDEN (University of Missouri Press). His work has been translated in Italy, Germany, Israel, Poland, and Japan. There were also UK editions of the novels published.
From the Book:
One evening as Paul Frene and his girl friend Joyce were watching the news on PBS, Paul saw his ex-wife Audrey’s name and picture come up on the daily list of the dead in Iraq. She was an officer in a transportation company of the South Carolina National Guard. Hers was not a death in combat but the result of some sort of traffic accident. They had been divorced for ten years.
He would never have expected Audrey to join the national guard. It came as a complete surprise. But that was something he found himself experiencing with women with whom he had serious relationships. He would suddenly discover things about their characters he had never anticipated. Usually it was something that brought an end to the relationship. His parting with Audrey had been amicable. Now the woman he once thought he loved was dead. Or maybe he had never loved her. How could he love someone he did not really know? As soon as they separated, he found that he had no desire for any further contact with her. It was as if the marriage had never taken place. At the same time, the ease of the separation made him slightly anxious.
He was certain he loved Joyce. She had recently moved out of her small apartment and into his house in Charlotte, which he had inherited from his mother. And he wondered if Joyce would think less of him after sitting there watching the other names and pictures scroll by on the screen and realizing he had not shed a tear over the death of a woman who had been his wife for two years.
“I’m sorry,” Joyce said.
“It’s like it’s the picture of a stranger,” he said. “Someone I’ve met and I’ve recognized the name, but that I really hardly know at all.”
Joyce made them double gin and tonics, and they talked about a chamber music group she had recently joined. Audrey’s name did not come up again. Then they went to bed and made love. Afterwards, as he lay on his back beside her, he considered whether Joyce wondered if he had been thinking of Audrey while they made love. He had not, but now he was. He lay there for hours, replaying the scenes of their life in his mind: picnics, football games, a trip to Mexico. Unexpectedly he felt a sense of despair, a heaviness in his soul. And he wondered if he was grieving for something indefinable as much as for her, or possibly the source of his anxiety was the prospect of a life with Joyce. She was thirty-seven. He was a few years older. They had never talked about children. Did he want children? He was not sure.
He recalled that the last time he saw Audrey was about ten years before at a football game in Columbia. She was with a man and he had shaken hands with him and hugged Audrey. He could not remember the man’s name. He was not sure if she had remarried.
Paul was an engineer at a nuclear reactor just over the state line in South Carolina and Joyce played the viola for the Charlotte Symphony, an unlikely job for a woman who had been raised in the North Carolina mountains. Hers was a musical family, her mother and father both country music performers on a modest scale. When Joyce was a child she had started taking viola lessons from a woman who had played with the New York Philharmonic. Her teacher had developed arthritis in her hands early in her career and so left New York to live in a house in the mountains. Joyce had gotten herself out of those mountains and into the Indiana School of Music.
Finally in the early hours of the morning he dropped off to sleep, no closer to any understanding of death or love than when he first lay listening to the regular sound of Joyce’s breathing and began to think of his life with Audrey.