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What Gets Into Us

Moira Crone

I suppose you could say she was a person who advocated for a condition she only barely endured: the condition of being obsessed with one’s exterior, one’s beauty. I almost knew it was not a life she always liked, the one that beautiful got you, the one that staying beautiful created for you."

Reviewed by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

In What Gets Into Us, Moira Crone writes in a way that is capable of making other writers jealous: her prose is controlled without seeming overly careful; it is innovative without being tricksy; and her dialogue is ripe with authenticity – it is like a believable voice in the reader’s ear. Crone has the skilled author’s command of pace in her stories; even in the shorter pieces in this collection, she is in no hurry to tell her story. Rather she lets events unfold in credible and crafted sentences, drip feeding the information in a way that is both suspenseful and satisfying. And, like any good writer, she never turns away from the dark or sinister aspects of human nature or discourse. 

The stories in What Gets Into Us are called, by the author, "a novel in stories", and by the publisher "a story cycle". I first heard the term "story cycle" at the International Short Story Conference in Cork in summer 2008 and I concluded then that it was a North American term; we use the term "linked stories" more in Europe, it seems, for groups of stories featuring recurring characters. Whatever the terminology, these stories can be enjoyed individually, but they are made all the richer as a cycle, as we see certain events from several points of view – a child’s, a maid’s, an adult’s – as well as with the passage of time. 

The stories are set over four decades and concern the residents of Fayton, a town in North Carolina, where skeletons don’t so much hide in the cupboards as explode from them. Everyone eventually knows – and wants to know – everyone else’s business. The book’s focus is on the lives of the girls and women of a small corner of Fayton and how their destinies are formed from each others’ actions and choices. 

The tour de force story in the cycle, The Ice Garden, is a long one which won the 2004 William Faulkner/Wisdom Prize for a novella. In it, the potentially destructive power of physical beauty is brought home by tragic events in the life of the McKenzie family. Mrs McKenzie has been praised and pampered all of her life for being beautiful, "a platinum swan among crows". The result is that she is more or less useless at being anything other than A Beauty: she hates being a mother; she cannot maintain friendships with other women; she pines for a halcyon girlhood which, it transpires, never existed; and she wants her husband to bow to her every whim. Told from the point of view of the McKenzie’s eldest daughter, Claire, this is the saddest of stories and it is also insightful, raw and moving. Eventually Mrs McKenzie’s murderous ill-feeling towards other women, and herself, leads to tragedy, but also to a kind of release for her family. 

No reader needs a reviewer to summarise each of the stories in a short story collection, least of all in this wonderful book. Let it suffice to say that if layered fiction about groups of regularly dysfunctional families, coupled with insight into the racial struggle in the southern states, which is all written in gorgeous prose, sounds appealing, then this book is for you. Moira Crone has a rare talent and she deserves as many readers as possible.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway, Ireland. Her third short fiction collection, Nude, will appear from Salt in September 2009 and will be launched at the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland, the same month. Her poetry collection Tattoo:Tatú (Arlen House, 2007) was shortlisted for the 2008 Strong Award. She blogs at http://womenrulewriter.blogspot.com/

Nuala's other Short Reviews: Sarah Salway "Leading the Dance"   

Patrick Chapman "The Wow Signal"

Kuzhali Manickavel "Insects are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings"

PublisherUniversity Press of Mississippi

Publication Date: 2006

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?No

Awards: Moira Crone awarded 2009 Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction from the Southern Fellowship of Writers; Story, The Ice Garden, winner, 2004 William Faulkner/Wisdom novella Prize

Author bio: Moira Crone is an award-winning short story writer and novelist. She lives in New Orleans. Her publications also include Dream State (stories); a novel, A Period of Confinement, and The Winnebago Mysteries and Other Stories. Her fiction has been published in numerous magazines, including The New Yorker and Ploughshares.

Read an interview with Moira Crone

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Anything by Flannery O’Connor; Richard Ford; Eudora Welty; Sherwood Anderson, Alice Munro.

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