A review of Everybody Loves Somebody by Joanna Scott

Scott has written a splendid book. It’s clever, fairly glitters with cleverness, but it also better than that, and is a book that will appeal to every perceptive reader.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Everybody Loves Somebody
by Joanna Scott
Back Bay Books
2006, ISBN 0-316-01345-5, $13.99, 260 pages

This is Joanna Scott’s ninth book. She has won awards for some of her books and has been queen of the short-lists for others.

There are ten stories in this collection. Scott’s treatment of her material is fascinating. She uses only so much of what she needs and the result is an exhilarating lack of balance as if these men and women, so little defined but so surely handled, could go hurtling off in any direction.

She uses irony to get where she wants us to go as in the title story. Its protagonist is so much on the surface that we cannot be sure if he really loves his wife and daughter. He appears more to slide around the difficulties of his life and seek to avoid trouble. In his case, it is more ‘Everybody Loves Himself.’

Some authors enter into their characters more than she does. They go into the haunted attics and the disreputable basements of their minds. Scott finds quite enough on the front porches to supply her with what she needs. The result, skillful and restrained, makes the reader work. It takes a bold writer to let the reader collaborate in this manner.

The opening story (‘Heaven and Hell’) provides a good indication of what we are in for. The scene is an outdoor wedding. One of the guests, a small boy, has wandered away from the wedding and found a stray dog to play with. While the bride and groom exchange the wedding kiss, which turns into a prolonged and torrid encounter, a number of things happen. We learn that Uncle Hugo had loved the bride’s abandoned and now deceased mother but concealed his love. The clumsy father is locked in the motel bathroom. When he arrives at the wedding of the daughter who cares nothing for him, he arrives in a cart drawn by a mule. The little boy almost drowns and is rescued by the dog. No one notices. The fineness of Scott’s perceptions and the seemingly casual way that all these ingredients come together and color each other is a stunning accomplishment.

Not all of the stories measure up to this one. One or two are thin by comparison and represent the working out of ideas on a smaller scale, but she finishes the book with two stories that show her power at its best and fullest.

‘Or Else,’ the first of these, is the story of Nora. More properly it is the stories of all that might have happened to Nora. Scott takes us back through the crucial events of Nora’s life and changes the crucial episodes in each narrative. Not all the details are clear and it is only in the final version of Nora’s story that all the elements draw together and make sense. It is by far the longest story in this collection and would make a good choice for any anthology that involves sound and stimulating instruction on the art of fiction.

‘The Lucite Cane’ is similar in some respects but shorter and would be an excellent choice too for an anthology. Scott presents an aslant version of her story so that we must see it as whole only after the fact. It opens with a crowd scene – a crowd that includes among a number of motorists waiting for traffic to move an acrobatic squirrel. The text is splintered and involves what at first appears to be a group delusion of a man with a Lucite cane. The man is real, an octogenarian named Abe, and he weaves revealingly in and out of the lives of others and has an intrinsic interest of his own. He is at a bar when his meditations cross with Scott’s own working methods and the passage is worth quoting. “Hearing a sharp yapping, he looked around for the dog. But it turned out that the dog was a terrier yapping gratefully for his gourmet food on the television. Abe considered how easily he’d been fooled. The trick of false reality. Where does the truth begin, he wanted to ask.”

Scott has written a splendid book. It’s clever, fairly glitters with cleverness, but it also better than that, and is a book that will appeal to every perceptive reader.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places