This collection opens with a tale so convincing dear reader will be googling Count Darlotsoff of the Russian Revolution. Roorbach’s stories ramble along pleasantly, with wit and wisdom, from a unique perspective. Then BOOM! Something astonishing happens, sometimes indicated by a simple line, “And fell into a basement hole,” and sometimes portraying a much larger concept, such as patricide. The tales delve into history—the aforementioned Russian Revolution; plunges deep into socio-political culture—“His father was an important king or chieftain in an area of central Africa he refused to call a country, an area upon which the Belgians and several other European powers had long imposed borders and were now instituting ‘native’ parliaments before departing per treaty after generations of brutal occupation;” and parses human emotions and relationship dynamics—“sharks unto minnows.” There’s even a ghost story, with elements of land conservation, familial squabbles, and burgeoning love. As diverse as the themes are, and as broad the representation of people, one story stands out for its LGBT ignorance, as a main character tells the benefactor of her theater, a widower asking for a kiss, “Marcia had politely allowed just one, then explained that while being a lesbian might not mean she was entirely unavailable, her long-term relationship did.” He then proceeds to win over her wife, and they merrily cavort about town, all three holding hands, doing everything as a threesome. Lesbian relationships are real relationships, and lesbians are not toys for a man’s pleasure. That being said, this is a blemish on a set of otherwise fascinating and weird and brilliant stories. The book is dedicated to Jim Harrison, whose fans will likely appreciate Roorbach’s work.
The times were not conducive for a lesbian love affair. In this fictional version of Eleanor Roosevelt’s lifelong love affair with journalist Lorena Hickok, President Roosevelt is “in on the joke” and takes advantage with his blatant womanizing. Told from the perspective of Hickok, it’s a softly rendered portrait of Eleanor, all the loveliness of her and the imperfections softened. Readers also get a peek into Bloom’s perspective of the Roosevelt clan, with snarky remarks on cousins from Hickok, Eleanor, and FDR. Throughout the story, Hickok announces character flaws and strengths of the powerful people surrounding her, ever aware of her precarious position. Readers follow her career choices, through various relationships and friendships, and her ins and outs with Eleanor, who always chooses her as an add-on to her public, political life, even after her husband’s death.
This is a nicely written story of a highly speculative affair of a First Lady, politically powerful for her time, representing her with dignity and compassion, while displaying her passions, political and personal. With satirical leanings, it’s an interesting place to start an exploration of Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as learning about her “other half,” Lorena Hickok. Telling the story from the lesser known partner brilliantly brings her to life. It’s a little history lesson in a big love story.
I was fortunate to receive a digital copy through NetGalley.