For more than three decades Jean Stafford wrote masterful short fiction, perfecting a versatile style marked by acute psychological insight, an exacting eye for detail, and a bitingly satiric sensibility. Whether in Europe, New England, Colorado, or New York, her mostly female protagonists seek a sense of belonging to quell restlessness, dislocation, and isolation, conditions that Stafford knew all too well in her own life. “Most of the people in these stories,” Stafford wrote in the preface to her Pulitzer Prize–winning Collected Stories
(1969), “are away from home, too, and while they are probably homesick, they won’t go back.” This volume collects all of Stafford’s stories, as well as A Mother in History
(1966), her controversial journalistic profile of Marguerite Oswald, the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, and three revealing literary essays.
Stafford established herself as a story writer in the 1940s, publishing in both literary journals and general interest magazines and beginning a long association with The New Yorker. “The Interior Castle” is a harrowing immersion in one woman’s physical and mental pain as she undergoes surgery after an automobile accident. “Children Are Bored on Sunday” brilliantly punctures the pretensions of postwar New York intellectuals. “A Country Love Story” is a chilling depiction of marital and mental breakdown during the solitude of winter in Maine. “In the Zoo” portrays two orphaned sisters bound together by indelible memories of their unloving and scornful foster mother. Stafford’s love for Mark Twain is displayed in the delightful “Bad Characters,” as she tells how young Emily Vanderpool is led astray by the incorrigible Lottie Jump. “An Influx of Poets,” inspired by her marriage to the poet Robert Lowell, is a perceptive story of marital estrangement and a lacerating portrait of male literary ambition and egotism.
In 1965 Stafford interviewed Marguerite Oswald, the mother of President Kennedy’s accused assassin. A Mother in History is the acerbic result, a portrait of a woman hungry for money, fame, and attention, full of righteous self-pity, obsessed with bizarre conspiracy theories, and relentless in professing her son’s blamelessness: “Killing does not necessarily mean badness. You find killing in some very fine homes for one reason or another.”
Kathryn Davis, editor, is the Hurst Writer in Residence at Washington University and the author of eight novels, including Labrador, The Walking Tour, Duplex, and The Silk Road. She has received the Katherine Anne Porter Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction.
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