Essay Collection Review
Most of the essays included in Vicki Covington's Women in a Manís World, Crying were originally published as a Sunday column in the writer's hometown newspaper, THE Birmingham News. Other were published in Southern Living, Southern Humanities Review, and assorted literary magazines. Two essays, "School Lunch" and "Imagination's Birth," were previously unpublished. None of her columns for the Oxford American, "Meditations for Bad Girls," were included.
In the prologue to the collection, the author describes how she came to be a fiction writer. Her published four novels -- Gathering Home, Bird of Paradise, Night Ride Home, and The Last Hotel for Women were originally published by Simon and Schuster and are all currently available in paperback.
In the epilogue to the collection, she discusses the effect of the memoir she co-authored with her husband, Dennis Covington(author of Lizard, Lasso the Moon, and Salvation on Sand Mountain), Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage (named by Library Journal as a best book of 1999 and a bestseller in Canada) on her family, spiritual, and professional life. One of the anonymous readers for the press to evaluate the anthology wanted Covington to comment on the "sharp contrast between these 'June Cleaver essays,' and Cleaving...."
Between the time she wrote these essays (most of them appeared in the 1990s) and collected them, both of her parents died, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, she had a heart attack, she and her husband earned public lashings for revealing the intimate details of their marriage, and her daughters grew up. As a result the emotions Women In A Man's World, Crying seem magnified. She offers no apologies, only her willingness to share what she's learned, both good and bad, with anyone who will listen.
Grouped by topics -- Girls and Women, Neighborhood, Death, The South, Spiritual Life, and Writing -- Covington writes lovingly and longingly about what if means to attempt balancing a marriage, children, friendships, family, family legacies, multiple careers, and religious impulses.
In the title essay, seven professional women who live on Covington's cul de sac are sitting around a table divulging the fact that each has cried in the last forty-eight hours. All of the women grew up wanting their father's lives rather than their mother's. With children, each came the acknowledgement that, "We are our father's daughters, living in a man's world, in a woman's body, at war with nature."
Covington, not only wears her heart on her sleeve, she urges everyone to do the same. She compares her willingness to tell all to her mother's refusal to wear a slip in "Writer's Don't Wear Petticoats." Mother and daughter agree, "Might as well be comfortable and let them see everything."
Like most collected works, Women In A Man's World, Crying has slight flaws. Buy it anyway. These essays are honest, often poignant, sometimes heartbreaking, and deeply humane.
Vicki Covington currently teaches fiction writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
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