Family Gathering (Paperback)
The occasion might be a holiday or a wedding, a christening or a funeral, and a family is gathered on the eve to eat, drink, talk, and cast eyes upon each other. Like all relations, the extended family in Fred Chappell's Family Gathering has its foibles and strengths--oddballs and know-it-alls, hussies and historians, sparring spouses and model marriages. More than anything, this family loves gossip. Chappell portrays its members one and all in a series of sharply limned character sketches. In this crowd of strangers we may find personalities familiar, maybe too familiar. Perhaps we may even find a glimpse or two of ourselves.
Framed by the observations of Elizabeth, "age eight, / Priss-proud in her finery and bored / Bored bored," the collection introduces ebullient Cousin Marjorie, self-satisfied Uncle Einar, evasive Cousin Lilias, cunning Aunt Wilma, aged Uncle Nahum, convivial Uncle Hobart, confusing Aunt Alicia--set down in poems terse, witty, sympathetic, thoughtful, and satiric. Cousin Elmer "tends the family tree, / Shaping it to topiary rare / And strange as he trims a little here and there / And lops some ugly branches drastically." Cousin Lola "charts her paramours / On a performance scale from One to Ten / And then announces publicly the scores." Uncle Brit "cuts you off before you say / Two sentences and lets you know / He knows already what you think / And what you think is pretty dumb." And Aunt Agnes, ever forgiving, "recognizes what we are, / Yet holds us in affection / As steadfast as the morning star, / As if our faults had no connection / With the persons we are within."
Although there is no continuous story line, the poems in Family Gathering almost amount to a piece of fiction. We leave these lines with full knowledge of the characters--their personalities, prejudices, idiosyncrasies, and intricate relationships with one another. Chappell gives us gossip, but also gossip parodied. If your family is like most, sparks of recognition will leap from every page. With results like those of the Polaroids taken by the family photographer, Chappell "makes us look as scary / As old woodcuts in a bestiary-- / But maybe, after all, that's us."
Varied, humorous, and, above all, true, Family Gathering is pure mean fun.
About the Author
Fred Chappell's many books of poetry include Spring Garden, The World Between the Eyes, Midquest, and Source. He is also the author of eight novels. A recipient of the Bollingen Prize and the Aiken Taylor Prize, Chappell lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Susan.
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