I grew up in the so called New South, where there are sweet tea and skyscrapers, Gone with the Wind screenings in posh movie theaters, and Faulkner reading groups, but no stereotypical southern drawl and no cornbread In an age where regional identity yields to interstates and chain hotels, can I still call myself a southern woman After reading Elizabeth Spencer s collection of short stories, I think I can.Spencer s South is not just a location it is a kind of voice, a way of thinking and of speaking She was one of the old school of Southern lady talkers, Spencer writes of one of her characters She tried to protect you from even a moment of silence So goes the conversation of Mrs Harvey in First Dark, a story about a well to do Mississippi socialite struggling to come to terms with her daughter s undistinguished suitor In a volume that shifts from the bayous of Biloxi to the piazzas of Florence, voice, as much as setting, becomes the guiding force of Spencer s fiction Nearly all of her protagonists are women, and their voices funny, shocking, anguished, and strange propel the reader through story after story.The Southern Woman is split into four sections The South Italy Up North and New Stories Many of the stories in The South deal with rural landscapes, religious orthodoxy, and the legacy of slavery In Sharon, a young girl first learns of the relationship between her White uncle and his Black housekeeper Sexual awakening is the theme of the sultry Ship Island, about a girl from a poor family coming of age among Marine Club boys, eccentric millionaires, and a raucous adult Bible class Spencer s heroines are never dull they break horses and chase ghosts through small towns and back roads.The narrators in The Southern Woman often wrestle with family conflicts, and stories across all of Spencer s geographies feature runaway relatives, errant husbands, and anxious parents One of the most touching pieces in the collection, the novella The Light in the Piazza, tells the story of an American woman, Margaret Johnson, who brings her daughter Clara to Florence Clara is permanently brain damaged from a childhood accident, and when she falls in love with a young Italian man, her mother learns to see her daughter as an adult for the first time a warm, classical dignity had come to this girl, her mother realizes, and no matter whether she could do long division or not, she was a woman Spencer is not afraid to take risks in her writing, with mostly superb results In some of the stories, particularly The Business Venture and The Cousins, the narrator s voice is so intimate it becomes almost cloying Spencer s quirky characters are fascinating when they waver between the real and the fantastic The Finder tells the tale of a man with a supernatural ability to find all lost things everywhere, and I, Maureen tells the story of a woman whose life changes after she experiences a vision in a flying piece of glass Both of these stories exemplify Spencer s dreamlike sense of comedy a humor that both laughs and thinks.Whether strolling through Southern farmlands or European squares, Spencer s characters are fresh, funny, thoughtful, and, above all, honest You ll find someone to like in The Southern Woman, no matter how regional or region less you are.Review by Barbara Barrow Born in rural Carrollton, Mississippi, Elizabeth Spencer, in the great tradition of Falkner, Welty, and O Connor, has been writing masterly stories and novellas about Southerners forthan forty years Her short fiction, infused with the green of place and the elegant precision of an original voice, has earned her a reputation as on of our most accomplished writers of the form Madison Smartt Bell writes, Few contemporary short story writers have mastered or understood the art, and one can be grateful to her for keeping it so marvelously alive The Southern Woman collects the best of Spencer s shorter fiction, including six new stories written in recent years The book displays Spencer s range of place the agrarian South, Italy in the decade after the Second World War, the gray sky North, and, finally, the contemporary Sun Belt In The Little Brown Girl, young Maybeth discovers the limits of friendship in a racially divided world In First Dark, a young man returns home to tiny Richton, Mississippi, a land of mourning and shadows and memory In the long elegiac story The Cousins, a group of Southerners roams through Italy, brushing with love and regret and the grip of family Also included here is The Light in the Piazza, the novella about an American woman and her daughter in Florence that first brought Spencer widespread acclaim, sellingthan two million copies worldwide and never falling out of print.In this capstone collection, Elizabeth Spencer firmly claims her place in the long heritage of the Southern short story As George Garret has written, In this age of the short story, nobody is writing stories of the depth and delicacy, the strength and subtlety, found in the stories of Elizabeth Spencer. Although I m not a fan of the short story, I d read Elizabeth Spencer s grocery list Lovely, graceful writer. I m not really a short story person, and I don t want to finish this one I thought the dark undertones of the stories I read were fascinating, in the I m not sure I want to read or understand this but I can t look away kind of fascinating I suppose they are true to life, in that there is so much suffering mixed in with the good But they just kind of drag on and on, and I keep eyeing the new books on my shelf, which tells me it s time to move on. I guess I am just not the right audience for Southern literature I have a trail of unfinished books by authors acclaimed as classic examples of what the South has to offer I felt that many of these short stories by Spencer had no weight, no plot, no forward momentum Airy was how one critic described them Well, so is cotton candy but that doesn t mean I want a whole bucket of it Maybe if I could have brought myself to read to the end I would have found something substantial, but I live by the motto Life s too short to read bad or boring books So I left this on my unfinished shelf and moved on. I really like stories about Southern families, probably because it s familiar to me The stories of front porches and y all and polite boys aren t just cliched they re really part of the world where I live This was a collection of short stories and for the most part I enjoyed them However, I did skip a few ghosty types and just plain boring ones and I was reminded why I didn t really enjoy short stories in composition classes in college I HATE stories that don t give you the background and setting for the events that happen I find myself feeling confused and detached when I read short stories Give me a novel any day According to goodreads I ve been reading this for 8 months Well, I m calling it done, had to skim the whole last third If this collection were only the first 200 pages the section called The South I d be going four stars for sure Loved those, and was taking them slow to savor them Reminded me a bit of Ellen Gilchrist But once the stories left the South I stopped being able to concentrate on them or care about the characters Not sure what changed, maybe I just burnt out Is there an unhelpful button for reviews This is a book club selection and while the group has decided to read selections from the book I read the entire collection I was not very impressed and do not think the book lived up to the hype I received prior to reading it Several of the stories were intriguing but nothing stood out to me as being extraordinary Jack of Diamonds was my favorite in the collection and was intriguing enough that I will likely go see the play at the local theatre I think it will be a challenge to discuss than a few selections in a group setting. I first read the story Light in the Piazza in a book I checked out from the library Can t quite recall when I read a whole collection of her stories set in Italy Those remain my favorite, but this larger collection is well worth it, and a delight to hold in the hand The print might seem small to some, but the object of the book is a pleasure to hold as well as read. Ship Island great story.