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I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly: And Other…

I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly: And Other Stories

by Mary Ladd Gavell

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As even the most earnest student longs for graduation, the most faithful employee yearns for retirement, so Martha Hedges looked forward to widowhood. She would not by word or deed have attempted to hasten such an outcome; this is not a murder story. On the contrary, she was a devoted wife who lived in loving concord with a genuinely good husband. Being, in her shy and quiet way, a devout woman, she expected eventually to join Harold in Heaven for all eternity; but she counted on a nice long vacation first.

Were John Cheever to have had a twin sister who also wrote short stories, and had that imaginary sister spent time as a child in the loving care of her aunts, Dorothy Parker and Dawn Powell, she might write like Mary Ladd Gavell, the author of a single slim book of short stories. I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly: And Other Stories is a collection of wonderfully written stories that combine both depth and heart, while avoiding sentimentality and regard life with an eye for the subtle humor. Gavell died unpublished; it was only when a single short story (The Rotifer) was published in a trade magazine as a tribute to her, that she was discovered. The few stories she did write are sublime. My favorite is Baucis, which begins with the above paragraph. Gavell's stories concern the domestic; a child taking the school bus, an older couple caring for her mother as she dies, another couple on the search for antiques in New England, and they are pitch perfect. I'll be holding on to my copy because I know that I'll want to reread this more than a few times. ( )
3 vote RidgewayGirl | Dec 12, 2014 |
If you prefer your short stories to be rip-roarin', sexed up, or fantastic, you probably won't appreciate this collection. Gavell's stories are, for the most part, gentle slice-of-life tales of ordinary people; many of them are set in and around the small Texas town where she lived until her death in 1967. I first discovered Gavell's short story "The Swing" (included here) a few years ago, when looking for themed stories for a course I was teaching, and I liked it so well that I sought out more of her work. While "The Swing" remains my favorite, I also enjoyed all of the stories in this collection. They are small stories: a girl gives a doll to someone less fortunate; a couple makes their son's George Washington costume; a farmer's wife dupes a city couple; a family gathers at an old woman's deathbed; a teacher regrets not having praised a child's beautiful handwriting; a woman comes to appreciate the daughter-in-law she initially rejected. There's an apt quote form the Chicago Sun-Times on the cover: Everyone should have this book on their shelf . . . for the pleasure of reading a perfect story again and again. The Random House edition includes a fine introduction by Kaye Gibbons and a short essay by Gavell's son, remembering his mother. ( )
4 vote Cariola | Sep 22, 2012 |
Interesting collection of short stories. Some are very touching and poignant... others are a bit bland. ( )
  amaryann21 | Jan 24, 2009 |
most of the stories in this collection are, in my opinion, average. some are possibly even banal.

do read The Rotifer, though. it was collected in Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. it was discovered as a memorial publication - that's right, post-humous - in the Psychology journal that Gavell edited. and. it's just a great great story. the end. ( )
  lindseynichols | Aug 23, 2007 |
I truly loved this little collection of short stories. The fact that they were ever published is a story in itself, but I'm so glad they were. Mary Ladd Gavell, the author, died in 1967 at the age of 47. She was from the tiny farming town of Driscoll, Texas, and several of the stories are set in that place and time. Because I too grew up in a small farming town (currently the home of Dell Computer -- boy has it changed in 20 years), many of these stories seemed familiar to me.

Gavell wrote marvelous prose. Most of the stories are straightforward and simple, told in third person. Almost all have to do with women and their family relationships. All ring completely true. Even today. ( )
  jennyo | Apr 9, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375758224, Paperback)

When Mary Ladd Gavell died in 1967, at the age of forty-seven, she had never been published. But her story “The Rotifer” was fortuitously discovered by John Updike, who called it a “gem” and included it in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:16 -0400)

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