Emily Carter
Coffee House Press, $20.95 (cloth)

Coffee House Press’s confidence in publishing the 21 beautifully connected stories in this debut collection rivals Appleton’s confidence in The Red Badge of Courage. Like The Red Badge, Glory Goes and Gets Some is wonderfully terrifying in its depiction of the fear of aloneness. And like Crane, Emily Carter is a young writer of staggering intelligence and compassion, whose deep insights turn not on the self-conscious, but on life’s more challenging struggles: lovelessness, regret, self-understanding, and self-worth, to name a few.

The collection’s narrator is Gloria Bronski, a recovering heroin addict from a well-to-do New York family. Gloria is HIV-positive and chronically depressed–characteristics that are, in many ways, immaterial to Glory in the present of the narrative. For the Glory who once "thought it glamorous to be self-destructive" and "knew that there were people who got destroyed whether or not they wanted to be" is now someone who "can’t regard what happened with even the bitter pride of those who take refuge in their own culpability." Like Crane’s Young Soldier, Glory is alone with the problem of her aloneness, which is one of her strengths. She is also in the throes of battle for the first time. We first encounter her walking east on Houston Street in New York City, where the tantalizing, come-on voices of men "floated me down toward the river, me with my eyeliner making my eyes black and green, smeared, shaped like tears, like black and green chalk-drawing eyes running in the rain." We then accompany her to Minneapolis, where drug addicts from all over the country come "with the means, or whose family has the means, to travel far from the scene of the accident and start over again."

Indefatigable and primed with gentle suffering, Glory embodies endurance, the shameful alienation from normalcy, and separateness from all of the people "full of the grace of their various abandonments … far more beautiful than us." Her struggle to survive, her refusal to give up despite the difficulty of her predicament in many ways reminds one of the struggles of such characters as Camus’s Sisyphus, who Camus would have us imagine happy once he reaches the top of his solitary hill. Perhaps one also thinks of Mann’s Gustav von Aschenbach in "Death in Venice," someone whose self-worth and strength is at once preserved upon seeing the lean figure of a young boy called Tadzio on the Adriatic shore. Like von Aschenbach, Glory renounces her former self and gains strength by embracing an ideal of hope; she experiences "the silent breeze of mercy" in Minneapolis as if for the first time. And like Camus’s Sisyphus, Glory manages to find bits of happiness up the hill of her recovery.

All of the stories provide evidence of Glory’s endurance. They are muscular, fit, but not ungracefully over-worked-out. The narrative tone is for the most part colloquial, but it entertains the odd moment of ostensive literacy, the occasional scream. The best stories are courageously honest without being confessional. The first paragraph of the title story ends:

I know women and men who stand in their backyards, safe in the bosom of their family, at the height of their careers, and stare up into the old reliable silver-maple tree, mentally testing its capacity to hold their weight. There is that loneliness that other people can’t alleviate. And then there’s that loneliness that they can, which is what I was dealing with when I put an ad in the personals.

The rest of the story goes on to explore another challenging struggle, that of unrequited desire.

In the introductory section that precedes "Zamecki’s Cat," a story about a loveless and tough working-class recoverer who could be anyone’s friend, the most welcoming voice enters to describe how a regular might have become a regular in a local bar:

Someone, once, at some point, did not offer comfort when he needed it. Now, he will never ask for it again. And if someone did put their hand on his head, to stroke his hair back, he would brush it away as an intrusion, an irritation, a lie.

Story after story is a model of narrative virtuosity. In "W-L-U-V," Glory describes how she invented her own radio station called W-L-U-V as a girl, and how she understands the impulse of those who call in to the late night program she listens to called "Night Talk":

You work the night shift, or you work someplace where no one wants your opinions, or you don’t know how to express an opinion; you’re afraid you’d look crazy, standing there babbling about your opinion. It’s been so many hours since you’ve talked to anyone that your voice cracks when you open your mouth to speak.

In "Luminous Dial," the same radio we have all listened to returns, a radio that is a metaphor for the unpredictability of fear itself:

… there’s no getting out of it ever, no getting up to turn on the light, there will be no light ever again, except from the green dashboard glow of the digital clock which will never change to the next minute and no sound either except the sound of my voice replaying over and over again the litany of times that you failed, or might fail, or might have failed without knowing it.

There are also moments in the collection that tempt us to shout back at the page, such as this moment in "Parachute Silk," when Glory explains that part of her recovery is to make a list of the things that she will never do and the things that she would never do:

I Will Never jump out of an airplane, but that’s a doubleheader–I Would Never jump out of an airplane, either. It’s a conscious decision, one of the easier ones I’ve had to make. What kind of person would do that, and what do they get out of it, except a sense of relief when the thing opens correctly?

Self-contradictory, Glory knows very well that she already jumped from a kind of airplane. Thankfully, her parachute opens correctly. The greatest message of these magnificent stories is best described by Crane:

He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks–an existence of soft and eternal peace.