The Tiger In The Grass
By Harriet Doerr
Book Review by Alice Hathaway
Sometimes in Mexico, summer rain can be seen falling, all at one time, on isolated patches of the landscape. This is selective rain, wetting a chapel in one village, the train station in another, a long empty stretch of highway in another. When these contained showers are distinguished against the mesas, people say, “It is raining in sleeves.” A sleeve for Jesus Maria, a sleeve for Guadalupe de Atlas, a sleeve for every village and farm, if there is any sort of order at all under the skies.”
Those words introduce a chapter of vivid memories in Harriet Doerr’s most recently published book, The Tiger in the Grass. Subtitled “Stories and Other lnventions,” it is a collection of autobiographical sketches, short stories and character vignettes. Unlike her earlier novels, which were both firmly set in rural Mexico, this anthology drifts from Southern California to Mexico City, Michoacan, Jalisco and back to the States. The stories go wherever her memories take her – like the spotty, summer showers.
The writing is fresh, spare and eloquent; there are no unnecessary words or convoluted sentences. Her characters are skillfully drawn and incisive, her descriptions clear. She is a talented writer, even at the age of 85.
I admire Harriet Doerr’s ability, yet I was disappointed in this book. It seemed a collection of odds and ends, possibly discarded chapters from the other books, bits taken from old diaries or letters to friends -enough, of this-and-that to fill two hundred pages. The strength of Stones For Ibarra and Consider This, Senora was their sense of place. Both novels were held together by their setting in a tight little community of people dependent on one another. It was this coherence of setting that I missed most in this book.
So I suggest that you reread Stones For Ibarra and skip over The Tiger In the Grass.