A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories

Article excerpt

Margaret Drabble. A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories, José Francisco Fernández, ed. New York. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. isbn 978- 0547550404

The fourteen stories in A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman are arranged chronologically from 1964 to 2000. This order displays the change in Margaret Drabble's approach to fiction in the 1970s: a willingness to extend her subject and structure, to foreground somewhat the act of telling through changes in point of view.

Most of the stories in this collection are indeed confined to a day or two, as the title suggests. Most feature solitary female characters, living most vividly through consciousness; likewise, most of the plots climax with a meeting or recognition that forces the protagonist out of her selfabsorption. Increasingly, however, a narrator-on or offstage-introduces the framing consciousness of a storyteller.

Unlike many novelists who turn to the form, Drabble's short stories don't compress a life or tantalize the reader into imagining interesting events for the character after the conclusion. Humphrey and Justina, in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," may fall in love, but one senses nothing after will be so interesting as how they met. The "Faithful Lovers" rediscover each other, after a breakup lasting years, and the story concludes before the reader loses interest. If some of the protagonists have only odd moments of realization or momentarily interesting encounters, as in "A Pyrrhic Victory," "A Voyage to Cythera," or "A Success Story," they are important to the characters and perhaps reflect that most people don't live lives that could sustain a novel. …