By Janet Lewis
“[Lewis] thrusts us into the essence of a situation, startling us out of the role of complacent observer and into that of active participant. This steady movement and these brief revelations work together to give the stories a collective meaning.”
Deanna L. Kern Ludwin, Western American Literature
“Janet Lewis…has now written some very fine short stories, of which at least one (‘Good-bye, Son,’ the title story or novelette), I predict will live a long time, not only in memories, but in the anthologies of outstanding short prose in which it is bound to turn up. It is a story not easily classifiable among the different kinds of supernatural tales; it is, in essence, a story of divine guidance, and as such has nothing but the appearing of the dead in common with the usual ‘ghost story.’”
L. T. Nicholl, Weekly Book Review
Good-bye, Son, Lewis’ only collection of short fiction, was originally published in 1946, but it remains as quietly haunting today as it was then. Set in small communities of the upper Midwest and northern California in the '30s and '40s, these stories focus on the imperceptible processes, or cycles, connecting youth with age, despair and hope, life and death. Through a variety of characters (mostly female) at various stages of life, we glimpse the motion of these cycles. To some, they appear incomprehensible and therefore wholly destructive. To others, they are the source of mystery, enlightenment, and understanding. Lewis’ spare, understated style allows us to see beneath action and character to the forces which, in the world of her fiction, drive both.
Lewis weaves these perceptions into themes as varied as initiation (“River”), the succession of life and generations (“The House”), life-in-death (“The Apricot Harvest”), and, ultimately, life beyond death (“Good-bye, Son”). Added to the collection in this edition is “The Breakable Cup,” the story of a very young boy and a very old woman who recognize the frailty in each other and form a bond across generations.
In the longest of these stories, “Good-bye Son,” the themes and settings of the earlier pieces come together in an extended psychological ghost story. Here, Sara McDermott, whose only child died at birth, is later visited by the boy on four separate occasions, each preceding a disaster in which he would have died as a child or young man. Sara’s mingled joy and grief at each visit gradually give way to an understanding and acceptance of the place of death in nature and the bond that death creates among the living.
Janet Lewis was a novelist, poet, and short-story writer whose literary career spanned almost the entire twentieth century. The New York Times has praised her novels as “some of the 20th century’s most vividly imagined and finely wrought literature.” Born and educated in Chicago, she lived in California for most of her adult life and taught at both Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. Her works include The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941), The Trial of Sören Qvist (1947), The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron (1959), Good-Bye, Son and Other Stories (1946), and Poems Old and New (1982).
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