This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Michelle Latiolais
Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

Michelle Latiolais has a rapacious love of words. She plays with them, rolls them around in her mouth, ruminates on their meanings and their origins, reads them backwards even, and links them to other words, constantly coming to different insights and enjoyment of the language.

In this volume of short fiction Latiolais has occasion to introduce a "granite lap" in one story, a "silken lap" in another, and a "lap dance" in yet another, linking the stories with content but also with fascinating and varied words that reverberate from one page to other, in the process shedding light on the wretchedness of widowhood. To be a widow is to be, "Surprised by grief, its constancy, its immediacy, its unrelenting pain".

There are many threads linking the stories. The protagonists are mostly nameless, often no more than "a young woman" or a middle-aged one. And the characters repeatedly reveal the deep, cutting loneliness and desolation they struggle with after their worlds have been shattered by the death of their husbands—often as a result of the ineptitude of medical practitioners.

But all is certainly not gloom and doom in these imaginative tales. Far from it! Latiolais skilfully interleaves her tales with a wonderful comic element from one story to another. She says in one story, early on, that the woman came to understand that, "…the body could not withstand grief every waking moment, that the body would insist on a cessation for a time of the morbidity of grieving". And so Latiolais provides the reader with a necessary reprieve from the grief and allows one to laugh out loud at the ways in which women engage a sense of humor, and give, and give some more in relationships, in their efforts to please their partners.

This volume is, in a sense, a celebration of love and the institution of marriage. The love, intimacy, shared compassion, and the companionship and understanding between marriage partners is in fact what gives rise to the deeply felt sense of loss and the physical and emotional loneliness that follows when death strikes, leaving women to pick up the pieces in an effort to continue their journeys on their own.

Some of the stories seem autobiographical and a quick Web search reveals that Latiolais has indeed lost her husband to death. Her occasional angry outbursts and repeated irreverence are revealing, while her perception of the unrelenting pain, and the ways in which she allows her characters to deal with it, reflect some of what one would expect her, as a writer, to do.

Widow: Stories is an enjoyable read, especially since Latiolais is such an accomplished lover of the written word. Though the stories amply reflect the shattering and paralysing loss of widows, they are not depressing; they are in reality enlightening, funny, and sometimes just a wee bit uncomfortable. With its wisdom and dollops of insight this quick read may very well provide the impetus to appreciate one's life partner just that little bit more.