There were depths of fury inside me that felt strange and powerful; keeping them to myself gave my life a mysterious secrecy that felt like womanhood. – Rachael Meade
Author Debra Leigh Scott’s short story collection Other Likely Stories is unquestionably Southern. More than just a matter of being set in the South, it’s the pace of the prose and sensibilities of its speakers that distinctly marks each offering as something that could take place only in the South.
Though each stands on its own, the stories are loosely inter-connected by way of three recurring characters, sisters Rachael and Midgy Meade and their cousin, Marlena Galloway. Whether taking center stage in a story alone or all showing up together, the nine stories that make up the collection explore the lives of the three over a 20 year period between 1955-1975.
Every story in the collection was an enjoyable read, but there were three in particular that stood out to me.
“Memorial Day” takes place over a scant 24 hour period in May of 1973 and finds Rachel, Midgy and Marlena stopping at a campground off the beaten path on the outskirts of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. On their way to meet up with Midgy’s vagabond musician boyfriend, the young women are footloose and fancy-free, reveling in the freedom of their adventure. An encounter with an alcohol fueled group of ex-soldiers recently back from Vietnam, however, leads to a life-altering event that forever binds them with a terrible secret.
“A Fire Goeth Before Him” starts out odd, and quickly veers into straight up Southern Gothic. Marlena, freshly married and with a baby on the way, has already named her unborn son Ammon, which means “the hidden.” Never the most tightly wrapped to begin with, Marlena believes she has special powers and that Ammon is destined for greatness: “On the day of his birth, there are special forecasts of weather never before seen. Storms of great magnitude are predicted, with sun blazes that will ignite the trees. But this child is born instead, and so the world is saved.” We are forced to watch as Marlena slowly descends into a madness driven by her need to “prepare” Ammon, a preparation that you just know can’t possibly end well.
“A Kind of Heaven” is, for my money, the most powerful story in the collection. Living in off-post housing outside of Fort Bragg while their father is off in some strange place called Vietnam, twelve year old Rachel and younger sister Midgy have settled into a boring routine of daily existence with their mother. The unexpected arrival of their Grandmother on the doorstep one wintry morning in late 1962 turns the lives of everyone in the Meade home, especially Rachel, on its ear.
Nana Galloway, it seems, has a secret. One she won’t share with either Rachel’s mother or grandfather, who shows up shortly after Nana Galloway’s arrival to bring his wife home, which she refuses. Rachel discovers her Nana’s secret, however, and quickly finds herself drawn into a three-way war between her mother, grandmother and grandfather. Slowly Rachel comes to understand that conflict isn’t always a bad thing and that often it’s the ones we love whom we clash with most aggressively, because of that love.
Other Likely Stories is a wonderful collection of powerfully written stories. The three young women whose lives we watch unfold discover not only who they are and their place in the world, but that they are stronger than they may have thought possible. Tackling such serious topics as incest, rape, and mental illness, author Debra Leigh Scott has nevertheless managed to infuse each story with an underlying sense of strength of character and hope for a better tomorrow.