Published by Penguin Books
Publication date: August 27th 2013
Apparently, I’m getting all adventurous and flexible in my old age. Penguin Books was kind enough to send me a new anthology of crime fiction short stories. Crime? Short stories? Neither is a genre I read. I don’t look down on them either, but there are only 24 hours in a day. So, it was with great surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed myself with Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives edited by Sarah Weinman. I mean, seriously, the title alone makes it a book you have to pick up and thumb through. It is a compendium of 14 stories written by women who were pioneers in the field of mystery writing, from the 1940s to the 1970s. Each story is accompanied by a preamble about the author, including information on some of their other works (useful if you hit on one that really catches your reader’s mind).
Each of these stories, even though by a different author, conveys a sense of tension and a bit of dread as they all combine the everyday with the out and out crazy. In “The Purple Shroud” we meet Mrs. Moon, a textile artist who weaves complex and vibrant fabrics while every summer her painter husband carries on with college-age girls. Author Joyce Harrington writes Mrs. Moon’s attitude towards his actions and her response to them with such a matter-of-fact affect that even by the story’s end the reader is still in a placid state of mind much like Mrs. Moon.
She never liked to drive anywhere without knowing beforehand the exact roads to take to get to her destination.
Along the lines of unusual and outrageous actions written as the everyday, author Shirley Jackson creates a compelling tale of a young girl in “Louisa, Please Come Home”. When Louisa is nineteen she runs away from home. Not running away from any problem or running towards a new life; just a meticulously planned leaving. Every year on the anniversary of her disappearance, she listens to her mother on the TV begging for her release or for her to “please come home” and while she feels a little bit bad for her mother’s sadness she has no emotion beyond that. As she says
“Nothing is hard to do, unless you get upset or excited about it.”
As the tale loops back upon itself and Louisa’s whims change, the reader is treated to a conclusion that is both macabre and poetic justice.
These two stories represent a part of the range covered by Weinman’s choices. In the others we read of the dark nature that just as often as not lies beneath a glossy and polite exterior: the nanny who wants to impress her employers, the dutiful daughter-in-law, the lovely old lady who really doesn’t want a telephone in her flat, and the society girl who can’t remember what she did last night. Even the most innocuous of circumstances turns out to be so much more, thanks to these fourteen talented women.