ALL OUR WORDS NEEDED SAYING: An Anthology of Women’s Writing
Edited by Patricia Hemingway, Zofia Barisas & Carol D. Bradley
Reviewed by Dr. Amelia Stevens
Eight Lakeside women writers have created a striking, heartfelt and provocative collection. The twenty-one works of fiction, creative nonfiction and memoir, each followed by a poem, reflect a woman’s authentic experience.
The diversity of voices reveal—in writing that is strong and clear and sometimes superb— the connections of love, friendship, sexuality, and family. They tell of surviving mental illness, war, grief, and the violation of childhood. Truth is evident in the recounting of critical events in women’s lives: birth, abortion, and mothering.
There is no shroud of prettification or false sweetness in this anthology. Poems, the majority by Margaret Van Every, reflect the impact of each story.
Patricia Hemingway’s mysterious and evocative opening piece, “Leona,” relates the story of an isolated and damaged young woman who finds freedom as she transforms herself into a bear. “We Are Wet Garments,” Van Every’s poem, provides the perfect punctuation: “the shapes we assume/depend on how we are pinned/and the merciful whip or absence of wind.”
Hemingway’s “21 Valerian Street” is a moving story of same-sex love set in San Francisco in the 1980’s.
Zofia Barisas asks in “The One Spot of Color,” her poignant story of abortion: “Wars, revolutions, inquisitions, exterminations, witch hunts, executions, genocides, lynchings, murders, suicides, and in this vastness of dying, what part did my act play?”
I found her recounting of the abortion very moving.
“My Mother, the Thief” is Barisas’ raw and tender memoir about her love for her aging mother. As she washes her mother, Barisas writes, “The strength of life, its tenaciousness and its fragility, are written here in gathering folds.”
“Spanish Taxco” is the only comic piece in the collection. In English translation, Ilsa Picazo’s story retells the dark and stormy night of an illicit tryst. Each hilarious, frustrating obstacle drives the tension forward toward the climax.
In “The Shadow of a Star Chief,” Carol D. Bradley describes “lonely, desperate women trapped in circumstances over which they have little control.” A worldly woman who has led a life of freedom is blamed for the break up of a marriage.
In “Three on the Tree,” Bradley adeptly tells the 1960’s story of a teenage girl who could not free herself from “the boy with the handsome round face and dark eyebrows” who was “unlike the decent boys in school.”
In these stories, so different from one another, I was struck by the impact of each of them in portraying a woman coming into her own strength.
Glenda Martin Roman’s selection “Mrs. Brock Left Her Mark” is a taut recounting of the effects of a mother’s mental illness on her children. Tensions arise between the absent mother and the influence of a “One True Christian” who chopped off my [dress] sashes, snipped the elastic and tore down my hems to send me to school pure and shapeless.”
Margaret Van Every’s historical fiction, “A Mother’s War,” is told in first person by a mother in a Ukrainian village during World War II. Her sons and husband have gone to war and four young German soldiers invade her home, demanding food and shelter.
In “Rescuing Specks,” Janice Kimball narrates the survival of a teenage wife locked inside an abusive relationship. In recounting metaphorically the rescue of the family dog, the young woman saves herself.
What I found missing in the collection are more experiences of Mexican women, especially from the perspective of a non-educated Mexican woman. Such additional stories would have provided a broader representation.
Today, innovative women writers are in the forefront of the literary world. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride; the memoir H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald; and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, the recent addition to the Pulitzer prize winning Gilead and Home, are a few examples.
Poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, who published for fifty years from the 1960’s onward said: “It is only the willingness of women to share their private and often painful experiences that will enable them to … free and encourage one another.”
All Our Words Needed Saying is a treasure trove of that willingness.
(Ed. Note: Dr. Amelia Stevens, a psychiatrist, practiced for 20 years in Massachusetts. She wrote a column for the Lake Chapala Review titled “Neuro Notes.”)
Note: Join the writers at their group reading and book launch on Thursday, September 17 at Maria Isabel (The Old Posada) in Ajijic. Time is 3:30-5:30p.m. and 2 X 1 drinks will be served. Books will be for sale for 200 pesos.