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I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly
Synopses & Reviews
It is the stuff of fiction: A collection of stories, never made public, is lost in a drawer for thirty years until, miraculously, the stories are discovered and published. It is also the true story of the book you are holding in your hands.
Mary Ladd Gavell died in 1967 at the age of forty-seven, having published nothing in her lifetime. She was the managing editor of Psychiatry magazine in Washington, D.C., and after her death, her colleagues ran her story "The Rotifer" in the magazine as a tribute. The story was, somehow, plucked from that nonliterary journal and selected for The Best American Short Stories 1967. And again, thirty-three years later, "The Rotifer" emerged from near obscurity when John Updike selected it for The Best American Short Stories of the Century. In his Introduction to that collection, Updike called Gavell's story a "gem" and said that her writing was "feminism in literary action."
"The Rotifer" has remained, until now, Gavell's only published work.
The sixteen stories collected here include the anthologized classic "The Rotifer," in which a young woman learns the extent to which a bit of innocent interference, or the refusal to interfere, can change the course of lives. "The Swing" depicts a mother's strange reconnection to her adult son's childhood as she is summoned outside, night after night, by the creak of his old swing. "Baucis" introduces a woman longing for widowhood who is cheated of the respite she craves and whose last words are tragically misunderstood by her family. The title story, based on the last-minute announcement by Gavell's own son that he was in a school play, is infused with the gentle humor and vivid insights that make all of Mary Ladd Gavell's stories timeless and utterly beguiling.
With the publication of I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly, Mary Ladd Gavell takes her rightful place among the best writers of her, and our, time.
The managing editor of the magazine Psychiatry, Mary Ladd Gavell died in 1967 at the age of forty-eight, and her colleagues at the magazine ran her story The Rotifer as a memorial. The Rotifer was chosen for Best Short Stories of 1967 and again this year by John Updike for Best Short Stories of the Century. It remains her only published work. The rest of the stories in this collection came to light this year when a literary agent, having read The Rotifer in the latest anthology, tracked down Gavell's widower and was then sent nearly two dozen stories which had been stored away since Gavell's death. They confirmed The Rotifer wasn't the lone jewel.
In The Swing, we are mesmerized by an aging woman's memories of her son's childhood when she is summoned outside, night after night, by the creak of his old swing. Baucis introduces to a woman who longs for widowhood, who is not only cheated of the respite she craves but whose family, in an attempt pay tribute to her abilities as a wife and mother, tragically misunderstand the meaning of her last words. In the anthologized classic, The Rotifer, which Updike describes as an airy, melancholy pastiche...[which] leaps[s] so gracefully from the microscopic to the historic to the contemporarily romantic, a young woman learns the extent to which a bit of innocent interference can change the course of events.
Gavell's great skill and style, and the sad undercurrent that runs through much of her work, make her stories timeless and utterly beguiling.
About the Author
Mary Ladd Gavell was born in Cuero, Texas, in 1919 and graduated from Texas A&M University in 1940. She married Stefan Gavell in 1953, and the couple had two sons. They lived in Washington, D.C., where Mary Gavell worked at Psychiatry magazine. She died in 1967.
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