What friends of Ellen have to say:
I get asked all the time to recommend someone’s next read, probably because I’m so opinionated about books (no, really?) and because anyone who sets foot in the house can see that I’m quite fond of them.
"But since you’ve asked, I’ll tell you. I like Ellen Gilchrist a lot. She has this interesting shtick in that her cast of characters—some are related, some live in the same neighborhood, some are friends, or cousins, some are employees of the others—appears over and over again in her stories and novels, and are interconnected in subtle ways that you have to keep reading to completely discover. There may well be other authors who do this, but when I started reading Gilchrist in the early ’80s, I’d never seen anything quite like it (and still haven’t). Talk about character development: these are people Gilchrist has written about for thirty years. If you love characters, it’s a joy to be able to move on to the next book and catch up with them again. (I’m particularly fond of Rhoda.)
Gilchrist grew up on a plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi. This is Old South, folks, and she has the genteel life rhythms, the voices, the sense of place down pat; if you are from the South or live here, you’ll recognize it immediately in her writing. She also lived in Northwest Arkansas (she taught creative writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for some years), and writes movingly of that part of the country as well (I also lived there).
So where should I start? you ask. I am normally a fan of a big, fat novel—and Gilchrist’s are fine; I particularly loved Net of Jewels (readers who loved, as I did, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help will too), not least because it’s about Rhoda—but it’s the short stories in which Gilchrist really shines. In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), Victory Over Japan (1984; won the National Book Award for Fiction), Drunk With Love (1986), Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle (1989), I Cannot Get You Close Enough (1990), The Age of Miracles (1996), The Courts of Love (1996)—these are positively luminous books. And because they utilize recurring characters, the end result is not unlike a novel. (Sadly, most are out of print. You can get them at the library or from the used-book websites.)
Gilchrist’s characters live large; they do things (they misbehave) in ways I never would have dreamed of doing myself. (Perhaps this is why I find them so appealing.) She remembers her childhood vividly, and has a keen eye for the dialogue and habits of children and teens. Beyond that, I just love the way she writes, with interesting asides and digressions and rants. Gilchrist also writes poetry and, as mentioned in a previous post, has published a collection of autobiographical essays in Falling Through Space: The Journals of Ellen Gilchrist.
—from “I Once Wanted to Be Ellen Gilchrist,” © Jamie Chavez 2017
Jamie Chavez is a freelance editor and writer located in Middle Tennessee. You can read more about her—including her thoughts about words, language, books, editing, and the publishing industry—at her website.
Another reader says: "I zipped through Rhoda yesterday and today and ended up liking Rhoda even more than Dreamy Dreams. Linked stories, with the same main character, almost a novel but not quite, is a fun idea. Even the little discrepancies between the stories (Just how old was Rhoda when she first got married, anyway? She is said to be twenty and nineteen and seventeen in various stories) add a feeling of authenticity to the book (Do you always remember just how old you were when you got married? I sometimes tell different people different ages.) Gilchrist's writing has a Hemingwayish feel to it, especially when she has Rhoda begin to write and when she has Rhoda fall in love. I loved Rhoda when she was a fearless child, was saddened by her in her twenties as she seemed to let life carry her along, but fell back in love with this character when she hit her fifties and began to be courageous again (I really really wanted her to meet up with the bullfighter...oh well.) Wonderful book.
READ . MORE . ELLEN
Diorama, 2015 Laura Davis