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No Thanks and Other Stories

the plainsNo Thanks

$14.00 paper
ISBN: 978-1-930974-10-4
Publication Date: Fall 2001
Buy: Amazon.com | spdbooks.org

"Sarah Jane Smith's brilliant and meticulous novel-in-stories is actually a cousin to sprawling family sagas like Gone With the Wind. Her central figure is not a person (although there are unforgettable characters here) but a disputed family property. The lake house in No Thanks and Other Stories is the remnant of the maternal dowry, an ugly, beloved manse whose upkeep and threatened loss drive the mother, Valerie, to suicide. Smith's portrait of Valerie is savage, funny, poignant and finally mysterious: Was it the monster of a house, the marriage gone absurdly bad, or the bitter curdling of her old hunger for beauty and delight that killed Valerie? Her children, especially Clara, ponder the question fitfully and chase on after their own hungers. Like Valerie before her, Clara loves animals: Valerie took them in, nursed and indulged them; Clara dotes on them and finally does them harm. Sarah Smith manages, in her rendering of Valerie and Clara in their southwest Michigan landscape, to combine almost miraculously the skewed perceptions of women on the brink of madness with apprehensions of teeming nature that make one gasp with their freshness, clarity and accuracy. Sarah Jane Smith sees the Michigan inland lake country as no one else has seen it: in her stories its bogs and coves, meadows and banks are as exotic, as tremulously lush and imperiled as Mathiessen's viny Amazon." ––Jaimy Gordon

"Like Jean Stafford, Edna O'Brien and Shena Mackay, Sarah Smith reminds us that the turmoil of family and self is the short story's terrain, a complex space that is most fully seen in the clarity with which a highly focused, personal prose can detail the world. These are wonderfully vivid, well-crafted stories––sometimes raucous, always strangely disconcerting." ––Michael Anania

"There's a dark current pulsing through Smith's 'novel-in-stories' as unfathomable and murky as the pools and eddies of the Michigan lake that serves as both backdrop and central character in this disturbing study of one life out of control, another on the brink of destruction. Valerie and Clara, mother and daughter, share their love of this abundant landscape and the treasured family homestead that lies at the core of an intense family dispute. Yet for all that attracts the two women, there are complex issues driving them apart. In Valerie, we find a deeply troubled mother and wife: scornful, bitter, angry and frustrated. In Clara, we see both the receiver and rejecter of all the mother's lost dreams and ambitions. When Valerie commits suicide, the act pushes Clara into a fevered quest to establish her own identity while struggling to discover that of the mother she could never know. Through reverence for the land and recognition of its powerful influence, Smith paints a disquieting portrait of lives of quiet desperation." ––Carol Haggas, Booklist

". . . No Thanks and Other Stories revolves around a family home in Michigan and might best be described as northern gothic. The bitter, eccentric matriarch, Valerie, goes mad and commits suicide. Prospects for the house and all connected to it are grim, especially when Valerie's widower marries a shrew of a woman who becomes a constant source of annoyance for unstable daughter Clara." ––Publishers Weekly