Marrow & Other Stories

220 pages,
ISBN: 1894020316

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Alana Wilcox

The body is a common metaphor for discussing fiction. Yet, while we tend to focus on a narrative's "flesh" and "skeleton", we rarely consider what goes on inside the bones. This is the fresh perspective taken by Nora Gold in her excellent first short-story collection, Marrow and Other Stories (Warwick, 220 pages, $16.95 paper).

It may seem ridiculous to compare fiction and bone marrow, but Gold's writing about women and their losses encourages us to do so. She urges us to look for deeper significance-not by looking outward toward universality, but by looking inward at the way we have constructed ourselves. At its most fundamental, this dissection implicates the language which we use to understand ourselves and to communicate, and in which Gold writes.

In the title story, for instance, the protagonist has a miscarriage while alone in Jerusalem. As she cannot remember Hebrew, she cannot understand what is happening to her. After the fetus is delivered and taken away, she finds herself recalling the Hebrew of her youth: "It is the language of the body she lived in back then... when she first felt the soft marrow inside her own bones and heard the strumming drumming streaming of her blood. She has forgotten all this in her married years: the language of desire and loneliness, and more loneliness, and more desire."

Sometimes Gold's contemplation of language is even more rudimentary. "Torah lost/Laura tossed/ashes love/lashes of", recites the young widow of "The Prayer", who is able to feel alive again only through the prayer words she must sing in commemoration.

These are two examples of Gold's strongest fiction. Another is "Final Movement", a story that plays two betrayals off one another and that asks us to reconsider the binary of right and wrong that language sets up. While these stories may depict profound sorrows, they radiate vitality.

Gold's voice falters, however, when she feels the need to explain. That the women in her stories are learning lessons is implicit; when she draws attention to this fact, she runs perilously close to being didactic. "The Lesson of the Rabbi" warns us with its title. This touching story is about a teenaged girl from a loveless family finding hope through philosophy classes with a rabbi of suspect motives. Told in the third person, the narrative tone borders on condescension at times, and the girl's responses to different philosophers are somewhat reductive. In the end, she "knows now that the world is godless and empty, and there will be no redemption, not through the body, and not through the mind". Such conclusions are better evoked than stated.

"Flesh", the novella ending the collection, is a tremendous success. It is the story of a woman who hasn't left her house in twenty years. The family is gathered to sit shiva for Pearl's mother, and the narrator, Pearl's childhood friend, is sent to figure out what is to be done with her. Instead of dwelling on the driving question of why she has imprisoned herself, Gold has Pearl tell of her first taste of love, using her relationship with language to create a subtle, deft portrait. In a dazzling feat of characterization, Gold makes Pearl simultaneously alien and sympathetic: we understand her pain without entirely understanding her. At one point, Pearl lies on her bed, thinking of Ricky's touch and words: "The fish swam indifferently in and out of the letters, as if these were just another strange but unthreatening form of life. Sometimes they bumped into the words, and when that happened they just bounced off them as though they were made of rubber, and floated around for a bit in endless space." Gradually the words disintegrate into letters and scatter, until there is nothing. This is a perfect metaphor for both Pearl's love and the grief that results.

Marrow and Other Stories is a remarkable achievement. Gold has a gift for creating convincingly intriguing, odd characters, and a dexterous touch with language.

Alana Wilcox


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