I wasn’t lying in my last post when I said that, after reading Mary-Beth Hughes’s story “Pelican Song,” I was going to buy her book. I bought it that day and dove in.
Sadly, while I liked the book enough, I didn’t think any of the other stories came close to matching “Pelican Song.” That story is immediate, peculiar, honest, funny and absorbing. While some of the other stories in the collection exhibited some of those qualities, none had them in combination or in measure equal to that first one.
“Double Happiness,” the title story, came closest for me. About a mother of five who lost her husband when her children were small, then her favorite son to the attacks on September 11th, there are quiet and lovely moments in the story. It is devoid of the glamour a story like this might have–the protagonist is no beautiful, tragic heroine but instead an aging, boring woman that is only barely tolerated in the school she volunteers in as a librarian. I loved the last moments of the story.
Even that story, though, was fraught with some of the same issues I found were barriers to enjoying fully many of the stories in the book. Hughes often skews time, presenting events in a way that confounds a linear timeline, but, as far as I could tell, not with clear intention. I found myself needlessly lost, misunderstanding what was happening when to whom. I found some of the stories came across as obtuse to no great end.
I suspect that “Pelican Song” will remain one of my favorite stories for a long, long time and Double Happiness will recede into memory.