Second Wife: Stories by Rita Ciresi. Burrow Press, 2018, 51 pgs.
Review by Theodora D. Patrona
When you are a scholar of ethnic literature focusing on gender, being given the latest Ciresi book of stories to review feels like an all-expenses-paid trip to Mecca for the worshipper. As an academic, teacher, award-winning author and editor, Ciresi has had an enviable career, receiving the Flannery O’Connor Award and having strong institutional support acknowledge the significance of her work. This is what we Greeks would call “λαμπρό παράδειγμα,” an example to emulate for female scholars.
Famished as you may be for some good food for thought, Ciresi will not disappoint you with her latest book of stories. Her flash fiction comes to confirm the dexterity of her art, her laconic expression that honors silences and ellipsis, the right choice of austere wording to utter what is unutterable.
Being a second wife, as is the title of the slim volume, means you always come second in a culture that adores ranking, while loathing second places; a culture that promotes the institution of marriage, while (still) degrading wives. As double losers, Ciresi’s everyday women, second wives all of them, unravel their stories and reveal their deepest secrets plainly: small tales of infidelity and regret, marital estrangement, despair at the loss of a loved one, spite and bitterness. As is often the case with Ciresi’s works, the heroines’ emotional state is in stark contrast to the shiny packages of consumer goods, their flashing computer screens, the money that (once again) cannot buy happiness, companionship or serenity.
Brief and yet so dense, this book of stories echoes contemporary reality for the average middle-aged American woman, her emotional void, her troubles and heartaches in a unique Ciresian manner.