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The Venice Apartment and Other Stories

ISBN 141220186-1

By Erna Cooper

Review by: Michelle Humphrey


Ellie sat in a dark corner of the bistro one of a few lowbrow, authentically French eateries in Los Angeles. This first sentence of Erna Coopers collection featuring Ella in a dark corner evokes princesses in towers or ancient Greek maidens pacing around their underworld caves, all of them waiting for the plot twist that leads them out into the light. Its an appropriate beginning. These short stories conjure such journeys and borrow from the realm of fables, myths, and artistic allusions, whether they visit Shakespearean legends, restless ghosts, Egyptian goddesses, or the lovers of acountala whose marble bond...sat solid within the soul of Camille Claudel to her last, solitary days at Montdevergues.

Heroines look for love, self-knowledge, or a fulfillment of their creative promise. In the title story, Ellie lunches with a loving but sinister aunt at a haunted bistro; in The Broken Flute, a young woman realizes her destiny as an opera singer, while her double commits suicide. In Adagio, a slightly aging Victorian beauty reveals her romantic insecurities while she sits for a portrait in an Italian garden.

Characters are sometimes one-dimensional, and too many of them are stereotypes. Throughout the stories, desperate women cant have children; men abandoned their wives; and goddesses, ancient female guides, and a Native American serve as founts of inspiration and wisdom. There's also the puzzling parade of men and women who react to crisis with bittersweet sobbing. And while the theme of living-your-best-artistic-life is rich terrain, the narratives are not quite as insightful as they hope to be. (For example, The Blue Room twists and turns from ghosts to a fortune-teller to Anne Frank without setting up a solid foundation for the heroine's decision to become a writer.) The story Eureka, however, stands apart as a keen-edged tale documenting the last conversation between a woman and her father. The dad confesses a strangely joyous secret about how he worked as a door-to-door salesman during World War II romancing soldiers wives. The scenes here are memorable and well crafted; I even forgave the father for weeping.

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