The Story Ends—The Story Never Ends
by Joyce Goldenstern
Chicagoan Joyce Goldenstern’s The Story Ends—The Story Never Ends is a collection of glimpses. But her stories, while quick, are dense with detail, depth of character, and enthralling storytelling. Like a book of poetry, what is not there is just as important as what is; Goldenstern is as deliberate as a poet.
Whether from the perspective of a child, a young adult, a housewife, or an old woman, the author’s voice comes through resolutely, easily. Themes of religion, tragedy, acceptance, and morality pop up again and again. A woman comforts the man who betrayed her when he experiences a misfortune of his own. An aging woman obsesses over a Catholic school fire in Chicago that killed ninety-five children well before she was born. Generations of dutiful women serve in 4-H yet question patriarchal tradition.
But the question of what it means to grow up is also prominent in these stories; at what age, if any, do we stop getting hurt by uncaring partners, by not having a real home or sense of belonging? And how much of our suffering, or ability to fight it, is just a story we tell ourselves? As the narrator in “Circus Acts” says of her life assisting a cruel side show magician, “Surely I must be the main character of this story for I’ve changed the most and many times.” Abandoned as a child, she had nowhere else to go and never left because of “loneliness and fear and habit and perversion.”
“Communion Dress” ends when a young girl figures out that floating through life without making any real connections does not please anyone, including herself. “‘You cannot,’ my mother tells me through her tears, ‘stay alone in your room for the rest of your life and make up stories.’” In “Earth and Sky,” a file clerk who considers herself a theologian concludes that men in her life, whether a dead philosopher or her lover or God, are distracting her, keeping her from becoming the woman she wanted to be. These narrators all share that desire: to uncover their purpose, their personal story.
The vignette-like tales are told with stunning prose, and they create a collection that fits nicely between categories; part prose poetry, part folktale, part short story. Though not the best-executed cover design for this book, the image of a young girl in her communion attire enveloped by flames does speak to the themes that reveal themselves in these stories: We are too easily devoured by our own desires, traditions, and fears.
Though you will not want some of these stories to end, they live on as you think and rethink through their meaning. “Time: the way it does and undoes. What surprises you about getting old? I will tell you: what happened thirty years ago can still cause you to wince or bring tears to your eyes,” says the narrator in “Heart, etc.”
Do we ever truly change? Do we ever become detached from our history? Goldenstern successfully shows us how stories truly never end, and we can only hope that her writing of them won’t, either.
December 2015, ELJ Publications
$18.99, paperback, 120 pages
—Reviewed by Meredith Boe