Short Stories

by Jan Epton Seale

Texas Christian University Press, 1992. ISBN 0875651003.
Reviewed by Melanie Alberts
Posted on 11/11/2002


Airlift, Jan Epton Seale's collection of short stories, is a book populated by farmers, laborers, teachers, retirees, mothers and children whose lives are presented with humor and grace. Ms. Seale concentrates her attention on common folk of rural Texas and the Midwest. She names them Earl, Edgar, Mattie and Hattie Mae and unearths their passions with a sympathetic touch. In one of my favorite stories, "Going to Terrell," Lucille mourns the death of her only son while her husband Clovis denies his grief. He sends her off to a sanitarium where Lucille learns she is not the crazy one. In a letter to her "Sistoo" Lucille writes:

"Sistoo, can you still love me—even though I am supposed to be having a nervous breakdown? I know I shouldn't ask, but I hope somebody does."
Lucille's need to feel loved is echoed in varying ways throughout Airlift. In "Jack of Hearts" a newly divorced mother helps her "special" young son make homemade valentines. Although Seale never spells it out, the mother worries about her son's obsession with making the right valentine for each child. Her catharsis is triggered by a simple thank you note from a classmate. Her son heals her loneliness as he sketches a valentine across her sobbing back.

In a particularly moving piece, "What Flesh is Heir To," an elderly lady named Dosha recalls her long-standing resentment of having to hand her sickly infant over to an uncouth sister-in-law living on the frontier:

"[W]ho can say what is important sorrow and what it not? Who? There are things in a woman's life that hurt her deep, and yet they don't mean a thing to other people. In the end, she swallows them back until she knows them only at night, coming over her as she wakes, weeping and ashamed."
The range of characters in Airlift is wide but I feel the finest stories are those told from a mother's point of view. The power of motherhood is explored in "The Past Tense of Mom," and "Uprisal." In "Searching the Scriptures," a born-again missionary named Elizabeth makes an attempt to leave her unfaithful husband. She boards a bus with her young children, desperate to join a TV ministry, only to be rebuffed by the supermarket magnate upon whom she hung all her hopes. Instead of working as a clerk in his store, Elizabeth finds solace in the scripture and her children as they take the bus ride home.

The eighteen stories in Airlift will alternately lift your spirits and make you teary eyed. These stories celebrate the lives of ordinary people who delight in the appearance of birds in a martin house and find strength in holding a child's hand. Ms. Seale reveals the importance of trampolines and sewing machines and custom designed tombstones with a voice that is never condescending and always a pleasure to read.

(See another review of this book, here)

Check out our interview with the author of Airlift.

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