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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review: In The Eyes, In The Mouth by Adrienne Ross

In the Eyes, In the Mouth by Adrienne Ross. Lost Coast Press, Fort Bragg, CA, 2010. Review by Debrah Lechner. Fiction collection.

This volume of short stories by Adrienne Ross is a very rewarding to read. I drew the experience out a little longer than I ordinarily would, saving stories for the hour before bedtime. I hope my editor didn't mind.

What I found most enjoyable about this compilation was that most of the characters in these stories, though they may experience loneliness, still find their identities very much determined by the people who surrounded them. Often this causes frustration for the reader, but it also imparts on every story a sense of hope and possible redemption, even when the characters flounder or fail.

In "Substance," even if the addict/writer protagonist, Joel, chooses to bunk down with the easy-going drug-enabler, Lenny, who will enable the habit that is ruining his work, there are still Joel’s friends Philip and Judith to contend with. The reader can't help but think that the exacting Philip and emotionally demanding Judith will not easily let go of their friend.

If Polly, in the story "Getting Rid of Randall," fantasizes obsessively about the way she might murder her husband, there are still her teenage boys to interrupt her homicidal tendencies and keep her grounded.

In the cleverly written "Kay Kay and Jay Jay," in which the narcissistic narrator wears down and eventually loses her partner and most of her friends, the alternate personality that she begins to construct reaches out both to her and to others to effectively, even if tenuously, reconnect her to the world.

In the story "The Lost Objects Box," the narrator is easily exhausted by social relationships (this might have been exacerbated by her friendship with Kay Kay) and chooses a solitary life. Yet when her siblings invade her home, the relief she feels when they leave coexists with the happy expectation of seeing them again, leading her to savor even more deeply the life she lives alone.

I also enjoyed how adroit Adrienne Ross is in taking the simple challenges we all meet in life and turning them into familiar but suspenseful conundrums. In Ross's world, you can't lose a tooth or take up composting without having it change your life.

This beautiful passage from "In Common" gives the flavor of Ross's writing:
What's around me is all I know, and also all I don't know. Gasping, thrown on the rocky sand, drowned in the seventh wave, I'd like to know the wave, but too late: it's already engulfed me, it's become me, and I can't know it now… When it's gone, I'm drenched and stunned, drooling, bruised, in need of warm blankets, gazing at the sea the wave presumably came out of, was extruded from, but there's no sign, and now perhaps I'll never know. But I’ve been in it, and that's something.
Ross speaks easily in the voices of the young and the old, the male and the female, but her own voice remains remarkably consistent over the space of time that these stories cover.

This consistency makes me believe that although her characters may not always know who they are, Adrienne Ross knows who she is. I wish I knew more about her. There's not too much information on the web, but I noticed that she is generous with her in-person appearances. So if you have the chance to see her in public, or visit with her at someone's home, do so.

Hayden's Ferry Review was pleased to publish two of Ross’s stories from this collection: "The Dream Of Ten Normas" and "Jack Bailey's Beach Story." Pick up your copy of In The Eyes, In The Mouth, available here, here, or at your local independent bookseller. Ross is also the author of another novel, In the Quiet, published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

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