The luminous novella and stories in The Age of Grief explore the vicissitudes of love, friendship, and marriage with all the compassion and insight that have come to be expected from Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize--winning author of A Thousand Acres. In "The Pleasure of Her Company," a lonely, single woman befriends the married couple next door, hoping to learn the secret of their happiness. In "Long Distance," a man finds himself relieved of the obligation to continue an affair that is no longer compelling to him, only to be waylaid by the guilt he feels at his easy escape. And in the incandescently wise and moving title novella, a dentist, aware that his wife has fallen in love with someone else, must comfort her when she is spurned, while maintaining the secret of his own complicated sorrow. Beautifully written, with a wry intelligence and a lively comic touch, The Age of Grief captures moments of great intimacy with grace, clarity, and indelible emotional power.
The short stories were engaging and intriguing - ideal for consumption on train journeys.
There is a wide range of emotion and personal exploration in the stories, too. Perhaps the craziest of the stories is "Jeffrey, Believe Me," which is about a woman who is willing to go a bit further than most to get pregnant. "Dynamite" is strangely tense as the ex-anarchist narrator describes her now-sedate life in the country. "The Pleasure of Her Company" and "Lily" are narrated by the third wheel, a woman who witnesses the relationship of a couple. "Long Distance" is the most "American" of the stories, though it pivots around the relationship of an American man with a Japanese woman we never meet. And "The Age of Grief," which seems like the masterpiece in the collection, vibrates with mourning loss during the time of possession, but I wold argue that it only seems that way due to the fact that a novella allows for more space to create depth or character and situation.
Recommended for those who enjoy reading about other people's lives. Also, recommended for those who like LGBT/queer content in literature not marketed for a specific audience as such. Lastly, recommended for those who love or hate dentists, fertilizer plants, driving in snow storms, remodeling, and toddlers.
The rest of the collection is composed of fairly slight short stories that were fine but didn't do much for me. Smiley's writing is excellent, of course, but the stories were not compelling to me.
Notes: Read for the American Author Challenge.