Aspects of Nature
By Rhoda Rabinowitz Green
Aspects of Nature is a collection of short stories by Rhoda Rabinowitz Green.
As eight of the 11 stories have previously been published elsewhere over the past 23 years, the collection is thus a kind of short story itself; a memory of what has come before and what is most current; a recollection that is a guide to the author’s interests in the past and what they have become. This is, in fact, a key theme that links the stories: a set of searches for the meaning of one’s own life and identity, and the challenges we face in putting and keeping our “selves” together as people.
In “Finding Maryan,” the author’s empathy, care and admiration are fully expressed even as she recounts the difficult struggles of Maryan Filar, a young prodigy caught up in the Holocaust, a survivor who finds a way to begin again after the war and to reinsert himself into world of classical piano masters. Nor does she shy away from the challenges of the aging musician as memories fade.
“Finding Maryan” is a remembrance of a brilliant musician, a search by the narrator to find the musician, and a simultaneous recounting of the musician’s life and his own search for himself, which ends after his memory of the past has faded. “As for rediscovering those who were part of who he was and is … as for them, he’ll find them in his book.” It is the longest story in the collection and the most fully realized.
Other stories that deal with memory and age show similar empathy and care while highlighting the barriers the aged and their offspring and friends meet as the contexts of their lives evolve away from each other. In “You Make Your Decision,” the husband, concerned with career, and the wife, afraid of never finding her identity, never succeed in fully discussing their differences, a pattern that threatens to repeat itself with respect to their children.
Barriers to communication play a central role in many of the stories, including “Shayndeleh,” “The Day of the Gorgon,” “What’s Going On Here, Anyway,” “Out to Lunch With the Girls” and “Shayndeleh’s Real Estate.” These, and the stories I discussed above, were the ones I enjoyed the most and felt were most real.
The other three stories include two that are letters to doctors: “Dear Doctor” and “Age Appropriate.” They have their own pleasures related to style and humour, but they struck me as being in a lighter vein. The letters are both written by a character named Rose Enfeld, whose voice and style might sound familiar to those in Toronto’s Jewish community. “I heard your name mentioned, Doctor, when eavesdropping on three women seated at a table next to mine in Yorkville’s Le Paradis Bistro.” Nevertheless, they touch on issues of health and identity including who decides to schedule mammograms and whether plastic surgery is necessary.
The story I had the most difficulty relating to was “Aspects of Nature,” the story that gave the book its title. It concerns a set of six acquaintances with some history with each other, along with a relative newcomer from Trinidad. They have gathered for a weekend dinner at a home of the hosts, Roger and Carrie, who insist on calling the home a cottage and the dinner formal. Except for Roger and Carrie, there are no couples. The story concerns the banter and tensions among these characters as the weather builds up to a storm. The characters do not develop and some remained cyphers to me throughout. They were there as devices. Perhaps Green should have removed the characters that do not contribute much and focused on the tensions among those remaining. It would still have been possible to conclude with the actual last line: “Aspects of nature unresolved?”
Overall, this is an excellent collection of stories that touch on key aspects of human nature. Green has a flexible style, which she adapts to the nature of the particular story she is telling and slips easily into a satiric and humorous expression that amuses. But, to me, she is most successful in dealing sympathetically with the human condition and the search to give our past and present a coherent meaning.