The Peaceable Kingdom
This collection consists of eleven stories. In them, Prose writes of common lives and ordinary people in a straightforward, plain-spoken, but not inelegant style. These stories primarily deal with relationships--marriage, adultery, divorce--but they also consider the trials of growing up, both as children and adults in the face of loss, illness, and death. What Prose reveals are the sudden sinkholes, the dark undertows, the hidden trapdoors in the everyday that pull us into a direct, if often brief, confrontation with the cold, the alien, the inhuman. It is in these moments that her characters change, grow, recoil. Prose shows that our normal lives aren't so "normal," but more like a pretty wallpaper covering truths we often don't suspect, and, even if we do, don't really want to see. Her quiet stories don't shatter with total revelation, don't force us to stare at the naked horror, but offer instead disturbing peeks behind the paper that invariably leave her characters--and her readers--changed.
"You assume you will ask the important questions, you will get to them sooner or later, an idea that ignores two things: the power of shyness, the fact of death."
"I had a vision of people pulling at each other, and of the people who loved them letting them slip through their hands and almost liking the silky feel of them sliding through their fingers."
"What I wanted to say was this: that my father had been wrong about El Greco, that if something was straight and you saw it curved, you would actually paint it straight; your hand would correct what your eye had seen wrong, so it finally came out right. Then the objects in your painting would appear to you just as everything always did--distorted, buckled, and curved. But anyone else who looked at it would see what you never saw--a perfect likeness of the world, the world as it really was."
"Doug, our therapist, said I was out of touch with my feelings. He sent us an article, from a women's magazine, about a guy who was eating dinner one night and started hemorrhaging from the throat. Three operations, a repaired major blood vessel, and two years of therapy later, he realized that all his emotions had been locked here, in his throat. Now he expresses them more. When I read that, I thought: He was already expressing them in his own way."
"I wondered how often the future waits on the other side of the wall, knocking very quietly, too politely for us to hear, and I was filled with longing to reach back into my life and inform that unhappy girl: all around her was physical evidence proving her sorrows would end. I wanted to tell her that she would be saved, but not by an act of will: clever Gretel pretending she couldn't tell if the oven was hot and tricking the witch into showing her and shoving the witch into the oven. What would rescue her was time itself and, above all, its inexorability, the utter impossibility of anything ever staying the same.
But to have even tried to tell her would be like rising up out of the audience...like interrupting the opera to comfort or warn the singers: Don't worry, there is no journey, no one is going away, there is nothing to fear but your own true love, disguised as an Albanian."