I read Ellen Gilchrist’s acclaimed book “Victory Over Japan” two years ago and fell in love with Nora Jane, a character in one of the stories in that book. When I found out there’s a whole book of Nora Jane stories, I immediately ordered it and waited for some perfect time to read it. That perfect time had to be some moment when I’m vulnerable, because Nora Jane is a strong, beautiful, independent, willful woman who knows what she’s doing (at least that’s what it seemed to me from that one story I read), and when you read about her, you get some inner strength and motivation to keep pushing through life as if it’s beautiful.
However, the times when I’d been “vulnerable” somehow passed with me reading Dostoevsky and some other heavier books, and Nora Jane came in when spring began and all the nice things are happening (except one that involves my dad’s illness – quite in line with the sickness of Nora Jane’s husband towards the end of the book, except he gets well).
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL WITH NORA JANE
What I love about this book is its positive energy and outlook on life, as well as Ellen’s beautiful sentences – clear, confident, simplistic and full of color and optimism. Ellen’s characters live in a world where everyone is grateful for what they have. People are aware of what generations before them have done to make their world better and they owe it to future generations to do their best as well.
Though Nora Jane had a rough beginning, with an alcoholic mother and grandmother she loved who died when she was young, she very quickly outgrew immaturity and erratic, destructive behavior that often comes with unstable childhood. As Ms. Gilchrist says of her in an interview, “All young people are driven by passionate desires, but Nora Jane outgrew that insanity more quickly than most young women do.”
To make this book a perfect ode to beauty, kindness and art, Ellen didn’t make Nora Jane just fun and optimistic. She made her wildly beautiful and super talented for singing. We’re reminded of her beauty a few times in the book when we see how other characters around her are paralyzed when they look at her face, but her singing talents are more subdued. She doesn’t flaunt her great gift, but rather keeps it deep within her, as some sort of comfort and reminder of a special connection she had with her once-famous-opera-singing grandmother. But when she does let the world hear that angelic voice, everything stops in awe and deep appreciation of what Nora Jane is sharing.
THERE DO EXIST HAPPY WRITERS
Another thing I adore about Ellen Gilchrist is that she is a happy writer. Enough with the image of a self-hating, chain-smoking, deeply miserable writer who writes away his nervous eccentricities in a small, stuffy room and comes up with brilliant lines that dazzle the world. Writers CAN be happy and brilliant at the same time. Ellen is a living proof of that. When asked how come she didn’t publish any books until in her forties, she says: “I always thought I was a writer. I didn’t begin to write seriously and professionally until I was in my forties because I was busy being alive.”
So she goes on to embed her words with that happiness and instill it in readers who believe her. This is the third book I read by Ellen Gilchrist (the previous were “Victory Over Japan” and “In the Land of Dreamy Dreams”), and I can’t say I’ve had enough.