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Short Story Collection Review   

 

It Wasn’t All Dancing
By Mary Ward Brown
University of Alabama Press, 2002
ISBN:  0-817-3112-46

 

 
 

Mary Ward Brown’s words read like finely spun cloth, delicate and perfectly matched to the environment it encompasses. 

Her new collection of stories, It Wasn’t All Dancing, weaves an extraordinary montage of tapestry, telling stories of people in the rich Alabama Black Belt, their unique relationships, their inner-actions, their histories and their futures.

In the title story Rose Merriweather and her new nurse dance through a series of tension-filled scenes. The elderly woman is used to the Southern ways of genteel living and the young black woman dressed neatly in her white uniform, a kind of “Driving Miss Daisy” without a car. In and out of a mist of memory, Mrs. Merriweather confesses her early indiscretions and Etta or Henrietta says that the older woman still has her ways, says she is airish, the perfect word.

In “Once in a Lifetime,” a woman named Edithe works in a country café and lives with her daughter named Denise Louise. Their life is simple, unhurried but not without the small conflicts that such a life brings. Again, the author¹s words match the cadence, the setting, the rhythm: “Her face was like a good piece of sculpture to which the artist returned year after year, deepening a line, smoothing an angle, but always for the better.”

"A New Life” is Mary Ward Brown¹s Bible Belt story. It too is country Alabama, small town, filled with folks who truly believe, a man whose Bible is “worn as a wallet” and women who remember loves that were hearty and whole. They sing old songs. Their prayers are quiet but powerful. And when one of the people can’t take it any longer, she explodes with emotion. She can’t help herself, it’s the way she’s made.

The thread that runs through these stories is the place. It’s as Southern as molasses. It’s real and true. It’s as beautiful as it is torn and tattered, ripped and violated. Like the white lawyer and the newly elected majority-black county commission. Like the impatient father who curses but works long and hard and is lorded over by the Baptist God. As it is in the Black Belt, so it is in Ms. Brown’s fiction world: the whites live alongside the blacks, they share love, they die, and they have deep feelings for each other. These parallel worlds provide not simply setting, a unique universe worth visiting, they provide the conflict without which there are no stories worth reading.

In her quiet little dramas, Mary Ward Brown mirrors the world that she knows in west Alabama, the world which she has viewed inside and out, the world that she explores with such fine unique personal language, making her patterns like some women make quilts, piecing together bits and pieces of dialogue, a triangle of drama, a square of description.

It Wasn’t All Dancing moves on beyond Tongues of Flames, her earlier collection. It gives us more of the people of their precious world. Her writing never soars. It does not fly. It mopes along, sometimes, like dragging bare feet across a red clay road. It vibrates with just the right tingle, lifting a smile from a face or sinking hard into a place where tears fall from an old black man’s face and his heavy lips tremble and moan.

 

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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