The One Who Got Away: A Collection
By Patricia Hemingway
Reviewed by Margaret Van Every
Joining the ranks of gifted short story writers in our Lakeside community is Patricia Hemingway, who recently published her first collection. The slim volume comprises nine gems, each polished to a lustrous shine and showcasing the author’s signature skill at compressing personal memories into few pages and evoking a universe that resounds in the heart of the reader.
Hemingway’s stories are grouped into two sections, the first derived from her childhood in San Antonio, Texas, during the 1950s; the second, her experience and observations as she gropes her way through the murky landscapes of aging and dislocation.
The childhood pieces unfold in a cluster of houses where renters live under the bigoted eye of a tyrannical landlord. The narrator and her sisters are left pretty much to fend for themselves as their divorced mother must earn a living. Though Hemingway has drawn from her personal history, she has taken artistic liberty to fictionalize as warranted. She explains, “When I am pulling from the inner reservoir, I am dipping into a world that has been preserved as a lyrical jelly.”
The story “Patsy” relates the subtle, seductive innocence of an adolescent looked up to by the younger narrator. Patsy has many boyfriends, an implied aura of promiscuity, but she reveals her budding sensuality in the ecstatic mysteries of the Holy Roller Church from whose windows emanate raucous celebratory shrieks into the sultry night. It is a moment of triumph for Patsy and also her acolyte, the author.
Hemingway’s stories sometimes grapple with moral issues as relevant now as in the 50s. “The One Who Got Away” tackles racism, narrating how it resulted in the premature conclusion of the author’s childhood. “Chinese Plums” tells of pedophilia with a surprise ending. I was deeply moved by “September, 1956,” in which an abandoned teenage boy seeks solace in the company of a shy twin girl who feels invisible. The lonely children survive watching American Bandstand, responding to the music of their time, and discovering the comforts of touch as they move to the music.
The final San Antonio story is a finely wrought portrait of Hemingway’s granddaddy, a survivor of the Great Depression, delineated through her worshipful hand and eye. As a young girl in San Antonio she knew him as he was transitioning to retirement at Lakeside. Years later she moved here and sought him in imagined haunts he might have frequented.
In “Fragility and the Divide,” Hemingway explores a woman struggling in the zone of ambiguity, unable to embrace without apprehension the status of older woman. She writes: “An older woman has learned to embrace passion however it finds its way into her life. Why can I not achieve this?”
In defining Hemingway’s voice and strengths, I would say that she has a gifted eye for selecting the most evocative details. She typically takes a simple event and without wasting a word weaves an unforgettable story. She has a knack for developing a plot and for making you feel the pain of the dispossessed, especially those San Antonio children. But way up near the top of the list is her sensuality. She can activate all your senses and she does this in almost every story, but none more than in “Separados.”
You will befriend this author and her poignant characters and want to revisit them again and again.
120 p. Patricia Hemingway will be reading from her book and signing copies December 13 at La Estrellita B & B, next door to LCS: wine & cheese 3:15pm. Book available also at Diane Pearl Colecciones.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com