Reviews

Still Stupefying

JILL MANDRAKE

In 1991 I wrote a review for Kinesis (a national newspaper that focused on women’s issues) of Holley Rubinsky’s first book, Rapid Transits and Other Stories. The author was available for interviews, and I was so blown away by the powerful content of her stories that I went to the interview feeling somewhat stupefied. Four books later, South of Elfrida (Brindle & Glass) is just as absorbing as Rubinsky’s earlier work, although the backdrops are different—most of these stories take place along the routes of the southwestern USA. This collection is about loss and regret, or, in the memorable phrase of Flannery O’Connor, “the land of guilt and sorrow.” Rubinsky pulls you into this land straightaway, with stories like “Stronghold”: “Just back from a recent trip to Indonesia, I went in for gallbladder surgery, picked up a hospital superbug, spent time in isolation, and nearly died.” A winsome feature of Rubinsky’s storytelling is her connection with children and with all kinds of animals, as in this description of a five-year-old’s developing mind, from “Little Dove”: “He knows things but doesn’t know too much. He knows when you’re really fed up or just pretending to be. He has the grace to go along with you, not argue when he knows you’re sad.” And you can’t help but love the little guy. This book reminds me of something John Lennon said about a photograph of himself, in which he is leaning against a building on a busy street in Hamburg. Lennon said this image captured “the beauty and spirit of the Beatles.” I feel as though South of Elfrida captures “the beauty and spirit” of a middle-aged woman on a solitary road trip. Thankfully, we can ride along with her for a while.

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JILL MANDRAKE

Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits. https://hido.bandcamp.com/album/the-neti-pot

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