-->
Reviews

'A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman' Is Poetic and Contemplative Examination of Intimate Worlds

Many of the examples in this edition read as a sort of philosophic prose poetry.


A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories

Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
Length: 227 pages
Author: Margaret Drabble
Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-05
Amazon

At the conclusion of the story ‘A Voyage to Cythera’ (1967) contained in this edition, the protagonist, Helen, has to walk ‘carefully, because her ankles were so brittle from the cold that she feared that if she stumbled, they would snap.’ (40)

‘Brittle’ is a good description of these carefully worked and structured stories that follow the trajectory of Margaret Drabble’s career from the late '60s to the present. Not principally known as a short story writer, the award-winning author of such novels as The Sea Lady and The Witch of Exmoor experimented consistently with the form, testing out voices and characters. Many of the examples in this edition read as a sort of philosophic prose poetry.

Her gradual refinement of structure is on show and she moves from male to female voices, the latter of course in the majority, with considerable ease. The man on his honeymoon, in ‘Hassan’s Tower’, benefits from his moment of sublime revelation that could forecast a more optimistic future: ‘… as he gazed he felt growing within him a sense of extraordinary familiarity that was in its own way a kind of illumination, for he saw all these foreign people keenly lit with a visionary gleam of meaning …’ (20).

Where the fragile but hopeful prospect of new understanding and revelation might be on the ascendancy for some characters, the fracture of misunderstanding and discord is more tragically demonstrated for others. This is never more apparent than in ‘The Gifts of War’ in which two women, one an abused working-class mother and the other middle-class with aspirations and university bound, encounter each other. Their lives collide in a toy shop, over the politicisation of the mundane and domestic, as the mother tries to buy a toy for her son.

She has anticipated this act for some time, Drabble endowing it with a ritual significance: ‘… she began, at last, to enter upon the day’s true enjoyment: slowly she took possession of it, this day that she had waited for, and which could not now be taken from her.’ (90) Her humble actions are contrasted with the stridency and aggression of her husband and the male-dominated anti-war protest happening in the town. Drabble shows that battlefields are sited not only in the global context, but that belligerence and dominance overwhelm the communication possible between those who should be natural allies, such as the women from two different generations and backgrounds.

Drabble’s trademark, I suppose, is this precise examination of intimate worlds in poetic and contemplative style. Some of these stories act as a form of meditation upon the characters’ lives. In ‘A Success Story’ we are confronted with the self-examination of the central figure, Kathie, a playwright who discovers her idol has feet of clay (probably drawn from a direct experience in Drabble’s own life): ‘What did she think about this episode?’ the author enquires. At some level this is perhaps operating as a form of exorcism or cleansing for encounters she wishes to resolve.

The title story, ‘A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman’, blends satire with a bleak and compelling vision of a woman confronting bad news and facing the potentiality of illness and death. It's an ironic vignette of self-discovery, disillusionment and commentary upon the hollowness of public profile.

Whilst there might be an alienating effect from the class-conscious voices; mostly we are in the territory of the English middle and upper-middle classes, moderately wealthy and part of an identifiable social and professional ‘set’, there is nevertheless enough emotion and humanity for a wide readership. If not necessarily universal they are relevant and offer the opportunity to chart the progress of one of modern literature’s most significant writers.

9
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image