Short story review from: The Best American Short Stories 1994 – “In the Gloaming” by Alice Elliott Dark

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from the 1994 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff.

“In the Gloaming”
Alice Elliott Dark

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I did not know the word “gloaming” when I first read this story years ago. It is a word from Scotland that describes the peaceful twilight of a summer evening. I found this short story in the 1994 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolfe and Katrina Kenison.

“In the Gloaming” is a story about an adult son who has come home to die and about a mother and son who reach for each other during these final days. It’s also about family and the connections between a mother and her children and a marriage that is distant.

Alice Elliott Dark has a great writing style and you feel like you are right there with Janet and Laird as they sit on their deck and talk. You feel the peace of the moment and the false hope that these days will go on and on. As Laird’s health worsens, you also feel Janet’s jittery panic. The story comes around and creates new connections at the end, and that gives you hope and comfort. It felt very real.

There’s a great interview in the back of this collection and the author talks about what was going on in her life when she wrote “In the Gloaming.”  She says,

I see it as a story about a woman trying to be a decent mother, a subject that was very much on my mind at the time I wrote it. I had recently become a mother, and was having bouts of vertigo whenever I thought about the scope of this new relationship.

This story first appeared in The New Yorker in 1994. Dark has also written two short story collections, Naked to the Waist and In the Gloaming, and one novel, Think of England. She is an Assistant Professor in the MFA program and the English Department at Rutgers University.

Note:  HBO made “In the Gloaming” into a TV movie, which was directed by Christopher Reeve, and stars Glenn Close, Bridget Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Sean Leonard. Although the HBO version has the son dying of AIDS, this was not exactly how the story was written. Dark notes,

The story was not conceived as being about any disease in particular. AIDS came in when Laird made a remark about his immune system, and I left it at that.

I like short fiction because it forces the reader to confront an emotion or situation in just a few pages. That leaves plenty to think about! Some readers prefer longer books over short stories. I like both! What’s your favorite genre?

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