The Uncle & Other Stories
by Joan Shaw
Cover image by Norman Rockwell
Designed and printed by Graham Mackintosh
First edition 1983
101 pages, 6" x 9"
Out of Print
“Victims are necessary so that the strong may excercise their will and become more strong,” wrote Jean Rhys fifty years ago in Quartet. Civil rights, the Women's Movement and child protection laws notwithstanding, cultural and familial imperatives die hard.
In The Uncle and Other Stories, Joan Shaw's timely and sensitive first book, the pathology of passivity is surgically laid bare; the archetypal tribal tale of five women, victims all, is recounted with acerbic wit and jarring perception, as the original scourge—the flesh and blood male provocateur—in times becomes a psychis succubus thwarting all attempts at self-integration.
Through telescopic time shifts and contrapunal harmonies of past and present, Joan Shaw illuminates the once dark corners of our experience. In “The Uncle,” one of the last taboos of our culture to be confronted in literature, incest, is chronicled with superlative sensitivity as Anna, the narrator, who is at once child of eleven and grown woman with a daughter of her own, struggles to graft new integument on the flayed body of her persona:
Can I continue to live in this house after what happened, to sleep on these clean sheets, read my unaberrant books, and dream the clean eleven-year-old dreams I'm supposed to dream . . . Must I take upon myself the task of finding yet another home and leave this gentle, rocking ark, the entire lower half of me awakened to its special vocation, its vulgar place in the world, its shameful needs, its engrossing vulnerability?
These vignettes of women, wrenched from the orderly progression of time and event by cataclysmic circumstance—incest, encroaching insanity, imminent death—present an ever shifting kaleidoscope of women as victims.
About the Book
Joan Shaw writes the way Mary Steenburgen acts: with a fluttery, abstracted quality that somehow is not at odds with her underlying earthiness . . . Shaw's forte is writing about women confronting situations which victimize them as women. Her feminist sensibility is understated, never polemical—but always there. And it's frequently expressed with mordant wit . . . The stories in this book exemplify a trend in recent women's literature noted by feminist critics such as Rachel Blau DuPlessis and others—a trend in which women writers try to ‘unwrite’ the culturally prescribed ‘marriage/suicide/madness’ narrative solutions.
— Janice Helbert
WESTERN AMERICAN LITERATURE