The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories
by Wendy Fox
It is very rare that I want to savor a book, that I purposely slow my turning of pages so that I can revel in the world that has been created for me. But that is exactly what I did with Wendy J. Fox’s collection entitled The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories, and that is exactly what I urge you to do, too. Her stories, written so clearly, and with a sparsity of words that only a few authors have achieved, draw out such intense emotions that, when you turn the last page, you will be surprised that you are in your own living room (or wherever you choose to do your reading).
I keep trying to pick one thing about Fox’s work that I like the best, but it is proving to be impossible to choose. My first instinct is to say that I like the brevity and the simplicity of her stories, but I think to say this would lead you, the reader, down a false path because her stories are anything but simple. It is more accurate to say that they are written with a startling voice that is more often associated with the kind of brutal honesty that only children can get away with. In her title story, The Stages of Anger, Fox writes, “You held my head in your palm. You kissed me like you could swallow me. You kissed me like one dog licking another dog’s wounds. Days later we had that baby cut right out of me. And then we went home: my empty belly, your forked tongue” (41). Fox is writing about an abortion, but she describes this experience in such a way that it makes us take pause. Needless to say, she has a talent for drawing her readers in and not letting go.
One thing that I can say with certainty is that Fox has an unique ability to craft a story that will be read differently, and more importantly felt differently, by each reader. Because of this, I do not want to try and fool myself into thinking that I can interpret her stories for you. Each one truly will mean something different to me than it will to you. I can say, however, that each story seems to be searching–searching for a love that has wilted, a home that has vanished, a self that is no longer there. In Apricots, Fox, using almost delectable language, depicts how just one fruit can transport you to a different lifetime, how just one fruit can provide so much hope.
“And I hope even now, that in some of those sealed-up, untouched places, there could be a way back to a place before the fire, that split our clan as easily as we used to open apricots with our fingers. I picture us there, after scrambling up a rock pile or in the crook of a tree that’s now fallen, flush with having stolen or just the promise of sweet, dividing the bisected halves, swallowing the fruit and spitting the center into the dirt. Maybe some of these pits will have cleaved and rooted; even a new shoot can withstand ferocious heat” (6).
Fox engages in conversation with her characters so that it seems to the reader that the characters are sitting right in our kitchens, eating an apricot, telling us about how they waited for their fathers to come back. It is not often that I am moved to tears by the written word, but Melanie’s story in Map of the Americas did just that. Melanie’s parents decide to separate and she is suddenly thrust into this world of living two different lives. Her father takes her to a carnival where she rides in a hot air balloon and she wonders what “would have happened if she had asked the carnival girl to come with her…What if the carnival girl had a penknife in her pocket and she sawed carefully through the tether, slicing the twists of jute one by one, until the balloon loosed and the two girls floated away, just another bright spot in the blinding sky” (52). The love that Melanie has for her father, the most innocent desire for her father to return home, spoke volumes to me. In the end, Melanie wonders what is keeping her father from her, what could possibly be any better than being home: “She would have drawn a thousand more maps with reliefs shellacked in glitter, roads demarcated with more precision than the best cartographer, if any would have led him to them” (54).
And indeed, Fox makes us wonder what is better than being home. She takes us back to our primitive state of needing security, of wanting to know that we belong and that we belong nowhere else. She tells us to never settle for anything else than what we hope to be true. Don’t a accept a half glass of anything, “take a full one or nothing at all” (61).