For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 35, Nora Jane by Ellen Gilchrist
Nora Jane is a “life in stories” and the collection of connected short stories and one novella begins with a death. Nora Jane is fourteen, living in New Orleans, when her beloved grandmother dies. Nora’s father was a Vietnam hero and her mother is an alcoholic, so Nora Jane now is adrift without any steady and loving influence. She wanders the city encountering a cast of people, from chefs who attend church and judges who hang out at bars, reflecting the upheaval of post-Vietnam society. At nineteen, Nora Jane falls for a charming anarchist named Sandy. He leaves her to go to San Francisco. To follow him, Nora Jane uses a prop gun to rob the bar and disguises herself as a nun to elude capture. She heads out to California, but Sandy is AWOL. This time, Nora Jane tries to rob an independent bookstore, but the owner is a TS Eliot-quoting rich guy named Freddy. Freddy falls in love with her because Nora Jane is also a raving beauty. When Nora Jane discovers she’s pregnant, she is not sure which of the two men is the father, but Freddy stands by her and raises her twin daughters in a big house next to a fault line.
In the stories that follow, an array of intriguing and bizarre people are drawn to Nora Jane and Freddy. There are visits from family and visitations from spirits, friends who hang around uninvited, and moments of fear and danger. Binding the story is the ever-surprising Nora Jane. She has two gifts: a beautiful singing voice and her grandmother’s wisdom. She is also gifted with Freddy, who is diagnosed with leukemia in the collection’s novella, and so it’s Nora Jane’s turn to stand by him. She does it in true Nora Jane style.
Why is Nora Jane a good read for women? This book is described as “intelligent comedy” and its excesses are its charm. Nora Jane is a reflection of the freewheeling times: she is a morally ambiguous but strangely grounded adventurer who takes a journey of self-discovery with her mind, soul, and body wide open. Ellen Gilchrist is a novelist of acclaim for good reason, and Nora Jane shows all that an author can do with a quirky character, a quirkier cast, and a concept that intrigues. Only the impetuous—or maybe only an optimist–would live in a mansion on a fault line.