I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly

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9780375506123: I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly

It is the stuff of fiction: A collection of stories, never made public, is lost in a drawer for thirty years until, miraculously, the stories are discovered and published. It is also the true story of the book you are holding in your hands.

Mary Ladd Gavell died in 1967 at the age of forty-seven, having published nothing in her lifetime. She was the managing editor of Psychiatry magazine in Washington, D.C., and after her death, her colleagues ran her story "The Rotifer" in the magazine as a tribute. The story was, somehow, plucked from that nonliterary journal and selected for The Best American Short Stories 1967. And again, thirty-three years later, "The Rotifer" emerged from near obscurity when John Updike selected it for The Best American Short Stories of the Century. In his Introduction to that collection, Updike called Gavell's story a "gem" and said that her writing was "feminism in literary action."
"The Rotifer" has remained, until now, Gavell's only published work.

The sixteen stories collected here include the anthologized classic "The Rotifer," in which a young woman learns the extent to which a bit of innocent interference, or the refusal to interfere, can change the course of lives. "The Swing" depicts a mother's strange reconnection to her adult son's childhood as she is summoned outside, night after night, by the creak of his old swing. "Baucis" introduces a woman longing for widowhood who is cheated of the respite she craves and whose last words are tragically misunderstood by her family. The title story, based on the last-minute announcement by Gavell's own son that he was in a school play, is infused with the gentle humor and vivid insights that make all of Mary Ladd Gavell's stories timeless and utterly beguiling.

With the publication of I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly, Mary Ladd Gavell takes her rightful place among the best writers of her, and our, time.

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Review:

In the introduction to this first (and only) collection by the late Mary Ladd Gavell, who died in 1967, the author's son calls her "something of an early feminist." And indeed, the women she writes about do share certain feelings of emptiness and longing, whether they're elicited by inattentive husbands, the empty-nest syndrome, or postpartum depression. In "The Infant," for example, Gavell's protagonist, Margaret, feels little of the conventional adoration a mother is supposed to feel for her newborn child: "She looked at the little gnomelike figure in her lap, and she thought, I suppose he'll be cute when he's two, and we shall be terribly proud of him and wouldn't be able to imagine life without him, but all I can think of now is that I wish we hadn't had him." So much for maternal warmth. Yet the author guides us so nonchalantly through Margaret's state of mind that it becomes impossible to judge her.

Elsewhere, Gavell is similarly revealing about the complexities of women, the hardships they endure, and the possibilities they have the potential to encounter. Yet this former managing editor of Psychiatry magazine seldom takes a rigidly feminist stance: she's more concerned with the psychological labyrinths of the human mind. It's a shame that these beautifully written stories--of which only one, "The Rotifer," has been published before--will constitute Gavell's entire literary legacy. All the more reason, then, to read and cherish them. --Yvonne Schindler

From the Back Cover:

"I was first gripped by the very idea of stories published posthumously, by an author's dream unrealized in her lifetime. But now it is the stories themselves, stunning and so precise, that capture me. Funny, sad, acerbic, and fresh, I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly has a place of honor on my shelf of favorite and unforgettable books. Long live Mary Ladd Gavell."
--Elinor Lipman

"The stories seem to slide through the mind sideways, leaving in their wake a sense both of unfulfilled promise and of greatness. Gavell might have provided us, had she lived a bit longer and had she been recognized, stories that would have ranked with the very best American literature has to offer. That she did not, and that we have only these gems, is almost more poignant than one can bear."
--Anita Shreve

"[These stories] belong to the ageless, classic grand era of the modern American short story."
--from the Introduction by Kaye Gibbons

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