Book Review: 'Starting Over,' By Elizabeth Spencer

Jan 20, 2014
Originally published on January 20, 2014 7:44 pm
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The Mississippi-born novelist and storywriter Elizabeth Spencer turned 92 last summer. Best known for her novella turned musical drama "The Light in the Piazza," Spencer has just published her 15th work of fiction. It's a collection of stories set in the South called "Starting Over." And we have a review from Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Now in her 10th decade, Elizabeth Spencer breaks all the old rules if she has to about how to tell a story, shifting points of view, inserting flashbacks in the middle of a fragile tale about the present in order to get at a necessary and beautifully revealed truth about the past. It's relation to the present. And as she puts it, the whole flawed fabric of human relations.

Old flirtations rise to the surface disrupting and otherwise placid summer vacation in the story, "Return Trip." A wedding guest in the story called "The Wedding Visitor" acts swiftly to prevent a deeply romantic, if flawed, new marriage from dying at the starting line. In this society of intricately braided lives of husbands, wives, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, the past is present, hibernating and then emerging again like nature itself, something like an old pecan tree in winter, as Spencer describes it, just outside and old woman's kitchen window showing off a network of gray branches, the ones near the trunk as large as a man's wrist, the smaller ones reaching out, lacing and dividing, all going toward cold outer air.

BLOCK: The collection of short stories "Starting Over," was written by Elizabeth Spencer and reviewed for us by Alan Cheuse. Alan teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.