Cliffs of Fall: And Other Stories

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9780312423278: Cliffs of Fall: And Other Stories
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From the author of The Great Fire, a collection of stories about love and acceptance, expectations and disappointment

Shirley Hazzard's stories are sharp, sensitive portrayals of moments of crisis. Whether they are set in the Italian countryside or suburban Connecticut, the stories deal with real people and real problems.

In the title piece, a young widow is surprised and ashamed by her lack of grief for her husband.
In "A Place in the Country," a young woman has a passionate, guilty affair with her cousin's husband. In "Harold," a gawky, lonely young man finds acceptance and respect through his poetry.

Moving and evocative, these ten stories are written with subtlety, humor, and a keen understanding of the relationships between men and women.

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About the Author:

Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016) is the author, most recently, of Greene on Capri, a memoir of Graham Greene, and several works of fiction, including The Evening of the Holiday, The Bay of Noon, and The Transit of Venus, winner of the 1981 National Book Critics Circle Award. She lived in New York City and Capri.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Cliffs of Fall
THE PARTYTHE Fergusons' door opened on a burst of light and voices, and on Evie's squeal of surprise--quite as if, Minna thought, we had turned up uninvited. Evie kissed her."Our shoes are a bit wet," said Theodore. He stood aside to let Minna enter. "Is that all right?"Evie had slanting eyes, and a flushed, pretty face. She was wearing a shiny brown dress, and her hair bubbled down her back in fair, glossy curls. She had an impulsive way of embracing people, of holding them by the hand or the elbow, as though she must atone for any reticence on their part with an extra measure of her own exuberance--or as though they would attempt to escape if not taken into custody."Minna, what a beautiful dress. How thin you are. Theodore, you never look a day older, not a single day. I expect," she said to Minna, "that he is really very gray--with fair people it doesn't show. He'll get old quite suddenly and look like Somerset Maugham." She gave Minnaa sympathetic, curious look from her tilted eyes. (Minna could imagine her saying later: "I never will understand why that keeps going, not if I live to be a hundred.") "Here's Phil."Evie's husband came out of the living room, a silver jug in one hand and an ice bucket in the other."You look like an allegorical figure," Minna told him.Phil smiled. He went through life with that sedate, modest smile. He was a corporation lawyer, and he and Evie had been very happy together for fifteen years. Long ago, however, at his own expense and to everyone's surprise he had published a small book of love poems that carried no assurance of being addressed to her. "What would you like to drink?" Phil asked. "Minna, come into the kitchen and help me with the ice. Otherwise I'll never get a chance to talk to you."Evie was leading Theodore away. Minna looked apprehensively at his straight back as it receded toward a group of people in the living room. He will enjoy himself, she thought, and then reproach me for letting him come.In the kitchen, Phil's eleven-year-old son was emptying ash trays into a garbage pail."Hello, Ronnie," Minna said. She turned on the cold tap for Phil."Oh hullo," Ronnie said, intent on his work. "Alison's got the virus." Alison was his sister."But not badly," said Phil. "Thank you, Minna, I think that's about enough.""I got her a card," Ronnie said."How nice," said Minna, breaking up a tray of ice."It says 'Get Well Quick.'""That sounds a trifle peremptory.""I expect the sentiment counts for something," Phil observed from the sink."Taste is more important than sentiment," Minna decided, without reflection."Yes, I suppose I agree with that."She smiled. "The combination, on the other hand, is irresistible.""You're beginning to talk like Theodore. Ronnie, you could be handing round the peanuts.""There aren't any peanuts.""Shrimp, then--whatever there is. For God's sake." Phil took the ice bucket from Minna and put it on a tray with the jug. They moved toward the door. "Now," he asked her again, "what would you like?"She would have liked to stay in the kitchen with Phil and Ronnie, although the light was too bright and there was nowhere to sit down. The kitchen chairs were covered with half-empty cartons of crackers and, in one case, with a large chalky bowl in which the dip had been mixed. Ends of celery and carrot had been left on the table, together with an open container of sour cream and two broken glasses. It was, Minna decided, like the periphery of a battlefield strewn with discarded equipment and ex pended ammunition. When I go into the other room, shethought, I will have to talk, and listen, and be aware of Theodore across the room."What can I have?" she asked Phil, as they went down the corridor."Anything you like. There's punch, if you want that." He paused to introduce Minna to a young man and a girl with a hat full of roses."Minna?" said the girl. "What a pretty name.""Her real name is Hermione," said Ronnie, coming up with a plate of shrimp."Preposterous name," Minna agreed. "I don't know why parents do such things.""We called our baby Araminta," said the girl bravely."'Araminta sweet and faire ...'" Phil quoted tactfully.Minna frowned. "That's 'Amarantha,'" she said, and wished she hadn't. She and Phil edged past, and found themselves at a long table, beside a bony man in black and an opulent, earnest woman in purple. "Punch would be lovely," Minna said to Phil."A Browning revival," said the man in black. "Mark my words--I forecast a Browning revival."The purple lady sighed. "Ah. If only you're right.""Then you do like Browning?""Of course. Pippa Passes. And I've always adored The Rose and the Ring."The bony man looked disappointed. "That's Thackeray. You mean The Ring and the Book.""I mean the one with the marvelous illustrations.""Rather weak, I'm afraid," Phil said, handing Minna afull glass. "All the ice seems to have melted." He helped someone else to punch and turned back to her. "Well, Minna--we hardly ever seem to see you. Are you very busy? Are you happy? How are you?""Oh, I'm well," she said, and could not prevent herself from looking toward Theodore. He was standing not far from her, leaning his shoulder against the wall and talking to a plump man with a beard.The bearded man looked cross. "My dear sir," he said in a loud voice, "this is not just any Rembrandt. This is one of the greatest Rembrandts of all time.""Take Sordello," the bony man was insisting. The woman in purple gazed at him with rapt inattention.The girl with the roses in her hat was still standing in the doorway by her husband's side. I should go and talk to them, Minna thought; they don't seem to know anyone. All the same, they looked quite contented. She glanced round at Phil, but Evie had just come up to him with a question; she laid her hand on his arm--beseechingly and not in her public, clamorous way--and he put his head down to hers. Minna set her glass on the table. Theodore, smiling broadly, had turned away from the man with the beard. She exchanged a glance with him, and wondered what his mood would be when they were alone."Have you looked in the refrigerator?" Phil was saying. His head remained lowered to Evie's a moment longer. Minna looked away, as if she had seen them embrace.The girl by the door was laughing now, the roses shakingon her hat, and the man beside her was leaning against the doorframe and smiling at her.Minna took up her glass again and turned it in her hand, and went on watching them--with admiration, as one might watch an intricate dance executed with perfect grace; and with something like homesickness, as if she were looking at colored slides of a country in which she had once been happy. 
"I behaved rather well, didn't I?" he asked. "All things considered."She came and knelt beside his chair and kissed him. "Admirably," she said. He put his arm about her but she disengaged herself and settled on the floor, leaning against his legs. "It wasn't so bad, now, was it?""You sound just like my dentist." He stretched back in his chair, his palms resting on his knees and the fingers of his right hand just touching her hair.The one lighted lamp, at his elbow, allowed them to see little more than each other and a pale semicircle of the rug on which she sat. She lowered her head and watched the bright shine of his shoe, which was half hidden by a fold of her dress. Outside their crescent of light, beyond the obscured but familiar room, the cold wind blew from time to time against the windows and the traffic sounded faintly from below. During the day there had been a brief fall of snow and, frozen at the window ledges, this now sealed them in. She tilted her head back against his knees. "It's so nice here," she said, and smiled.He passed his hand round her throat, his extended fingers reaching from ear to ear. Her hair spread over his sleeve. "Minna dear," he said. "Minna darling."She suddenly sat upright and raised her hand to her head. "I've lost an earring. It must be at the Fergusons'.""No, it's here," he said. "In the other room. On the table beside the bed.""Are you sure?""Positive. I remember noticing it. I meant to mention it before we went out.""I must have looked odd at the party." She settled back again. "What was I saying?""How nice it was.""Oh yes. How nice.""Just because we haven't quarreled today.""More than that. You've been quite ...""Quite what?""Sweet to me.""Not something I make a habit of, is it, these days?" His fingers were tracing the line of her jaw. "I really thought you wouldn't come today. After last week.""We had to go to the party," she said."That hardly seemed sufficient reason. I thought, She won't come--why should she? There's a limit, I thought All morning, I sat here thinking there was a limit.""And drinking," she added, but pressed her hand, over his, against her neck."Well, naturally." He yawned. "God, that awful party.""It wasn't so bad," she said again."The Fergusons are dull.""I like Phil.""Evie, then.""Well ... But she's a good person.""Good? I'm beginning to wonder if it's a virtue to be good. It seems to be the cause of so much self-congratulation among our friends. The sort of people who were there tonight--who choose a convenient moment to behave well and then tell themselves how sensitive they are, how humane.""But isn't ...

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