October 2010
A review of

Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women

by Mary Rechner

Central question: How can you be a mother and preserve your own identity?
Plot Summary: Rechner charts the distance between where we thought we’d go, and where we end up; Main characters: five are mothers, one is accidentally pregnant, one is a child thinking about his mother, and three are struggling artists; Heights of the author’s two sons when she began these stories: under 3' 6"; Now: 5' 6" and 5' 11"; Average wake-up time on a writing day: 5:00 a.m.; Representative sentence: “She couldn’t say to her daughters, I love you all, I wanted you all, but I didn’t think I’d have to go through it, I thought I could elude, I thought I could rise above, circumvent, not get snagged, not get lumpy, not get bumpy.”

In her new collection, Mary Rechner dramatizes what it means to these complicated women—mostly mothers—to feel the sand of their identities slipping underfoot, as their primary role becomes helping others develop while they’re still busy doing the same. The nine stories have a distinct ring of truth and a narrow range of experience that feels personal, closely observed. A child’s bare foot isn’t just small, instead “her heels were so close to her toes.” With no frills, no gimmicks, just a gimlet eye and quicksilver prose, Rechner defamiliarizes the mundane and makes it marvelous.

In “Pattern,” Silvia is feeling the sting of deflated hopes—a common theme. The mother of triplets is sewing a dress for her anniversary, wanting “to make something that didn’t get eaten,” and because she used to sew in high school, imagining a glamorous future in her own dresses. Annie, the exhausted mother from next door, lies on the kitchen floor, smoking, doing Pilates, and—at a key point that Rechner almost breezes past—admits she has been “thinking about doing it again,” meaning killing herself. This is a story about how being a mother cuts you into pieces that don’t quite fit together, how a friend can remind you of the girl you were, even bring her back for a spell, and how life with children can be a revelation as well as a chore. It’s utterly realistic, yet a surprising turn near the end feels magical, as the best moments with children (and in fiction) do.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Malena Watrous

Malena Watrous is the author of the novel If You Follow Me. She is a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times Book Review, and a creative-writing instructor at Stanford.

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