Monday, March 31, 2008

A Dangerous Age

Ellen Gilchrist, National Book Award winner for Victory Over Japan has become known primarily as one of the premier short story writers in America. But, as she reminds us in A Dangerous Age, her first novel in over ten years, she is also a first-rate novelist.

The United States has been engaged in war since September 2001, a fact of which many Americans seem to have lost awareness. The war, of course, is very political and that, perhaps, explains why so many media outlets seem to have lost interest in it now that the American body count has dropped so significantly. As it becomes more and more difficult for big media to damage the current administration via bad news from Iraq and Afghanistan, those in charge seem more interested in changing the subject than in reporting war news.

Ellen Gilchrist is of another mind entirely. She wants us to realize how close we all are to being personally impacted by this long war and she uses the women of the fictional Hand family to illustrate her point.

The Hands appear to have everything: money, physical grace and beauty, social standing, a close family and work they love. But it has been a more than a decade since a new baby was born into the Hand family and cousins Winifred, Louise and Olivia have begun to think seriously about doing something about that situation. So when Winifred announced her engagement it was a happy time for the whole family. Little did any of them realize how suddenly their lives were about to change.

The Hands were first impacted by the war when Winifred’s young fiancĂ© was on time for his early morning business meeting at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, making him one of the war’s first casualties. No remains were recovered but at the memorial service held in his honor, two younger cousins of the murdered man, identical twins, vowed to join the military so that they could personally avenge his death. True to their word, they did so, a decision that would directly impact the Hand cousins just a few months later.

Winifred, Louise and Olivia Hand soon learn what so many of their countrymen learned before them, that this is not some far-off war that can be ignored or studied with detachment if it involves those you love. But the Hand women are a strong bunch with a family tradition of coping well with whatever life throws their way and this war is no exception to their ability to adjust to life’s surprises. They are in full support of the men who leave them to go off to war and, just as importantly, they are always there for each other. Ellen Gilchrist beautifully describes the war as seen through the eyes of those left behind, reminding the reader that not all war heroes wear uniforms.

Rated at: 4.5


  1. I have avoided reading post 9/11 novels because it still seems too soon for me to read fictional accounts of the tragedy. But, this one sounds really good. I love it when authors take something on a large scale like this and tell about the way it has affected the people at home, especially women. Thanks for the review. I'm going to check this one out.

  2. These are exceptionally strong women, Lisa...and their story is more uplifting than it is sad for that reason. Gilchrist is just excellent.