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I, Rhoda Manning Go Hunting with My Daddy: & other stories    by Ellen Gilchrist order for
I, Rhoda Manning Go Hunting with My Daddy
by Ellen Gilchrist
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Five of the short stories in this collection focus on the author's most celebrated character, Rhoda Manning, whom we see as a 'hardheaded' little girl in 1940 through several failed marriages and motherhood, to become an equally strong-willed grandmother in her sixties. All of these tales, which read like a memoir, show us a Rhoda defined by her relationship to a tough father, the dictatorial Republican patriarch with whom she shares more traits than she realizes until late in life.

In the first story, five-year-old 'Sweet Sister', as her father calls her, 'was really mad because I never got to shoot the guns or go hunting'. When she got her wish, she almost shot her menfolk. The author, through Rhoda, tells us that it's both a gift and a curse to have a strong father, 'a curse because you cannot reproduce it in the adult world. No man can be that wonderful ever again because only a child's mind can really comprehend wonder.'

Next, a middle-aged Rhoda muses about her sons' upbringing, what she could have done differently, and her father's dominant 'tough love' role in her sons' lives ... 'Messing with the old man was not like messing with any of the grown people they knew. He could not be fooled and he could not be manipulated ...'. Though his family gathering for a skiing Christmas in Wyoming is disrupted when he discovers the boys smoking marijuana, he does not give up for he is someone who 'would not give up on us or ever stop trying to teach us what he knew until we gave in or he died.'

Next he tries to save his grandchildren 'from the madness that was overtaking Mississippi, drugs and desegregation and sexual license' by moving to a ranch in the foothills of the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains. Rhoda muses on how long it took her to understand how much she loved this man and how alike they were. I especially liked Rhoda's last story The Golden Bough, in which she is 63 years old and, by her own choice, alone for Christmas. She climbs a tree to pluck 'a bough made of gold' in order to 'chat up' her dead father. It works, sort of.

The next story was written in fall 2000 and is about terrorists targetting publishers of Salman Rushdie's works, and about the gift given to her dead grandmother by a woman who only wants peace. The Abortion shows a young woman deciding to have one and the reverbations and ambivalence that causes in the feelings of those around her. Next a gay young man feels Remorse for not telling his best friend more strongly that she is making a big mistake.

In Alone, a young woman copes with her best friend's move to Canada, and gets close to another friend Jobe, who quotes Dylan Thomas and dishes out his father's advice on what you need to know to be happy: 'Machines break, it's an imperfect world, and you learn from your mistakes.' Finally, in Light Shining Through a Honey Jar, 59-year-old Creole Traceleen teaches Buddhist principles to her niece's children's new nanny from Iowa, who has a tongue ring and thinks 'Life's a bitch'.

The latter's conclusion 'Such is love. Such are the moments of our lives' is also the perfect summation of these stories, which speak with tolerance and empathy of relationships between characters who are so real that one expects them to walk off the pages and into our lives.

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