In her recent short story collection, Peripheral Visions and Other Stories, Nancy Christie assembles an amalgamation of brief moments. Aside from the title story, each tale unfolds over mere hours in the life of each character, but those hours are full of the years preceding them. They are laden with sadness, fear, resignation, and hope. Christie has done the work; she’s taken the time to get to know and understand her characters so that her readers can feel the weight of the choices—and in many ways, the absence of choice—that brought them to these hours, showcasing her adeptness of capturing the life that occurs almost beyond our view.
Some of the intimate moments in Peripheral Visions arise from substantial, life-altering events: the death of a child or imminent death of a parent, a kidnapped child’s courageous step toward freedom, the murder of an abusive spouse. But many reflect the everyday humdrum of existence, like having a day already heavy with household responsibilities disrupted by a door-to-door salesperson, the stressfulness and concurrent dullness of being responsible for a parent with dementia, the challenges of a simple ice cream outing for a disabled adult child and her reluctant parent.
Through the stitching together of the trivial and the significant in the everyday lives of twenty fictional characters, Christie reveals a universal truth: the substance of life takes place largely out of view, whether it be behind closed doors or entirely internal. The events that occur in the public sphere are a mere fraction of what comprises a life.
Christie tackles emotionally intense topics through primarily female characters, frequently showcasing the compassion and kindness women show others through the care they provide. MaryLynn assumes responsibility for her ex-husband’s elderly aunt in Aunt Aggie and the Makeup Lady. In I Remember. . .Melanie visits her husband’s disagreeable grandmother—who doesn’t pretend to like Melanie—when her husband can’t and brings the grandmother a thoughtful birthday present that softens the woman, connecting her to a past that no living person shares with her. In Remember Mama, Maggie spends another indistinguishable day caring for her mother, who suffers from dementia, adhering to the menu that her mother never seems to forget. Though centered around relatively unremarkable moments, these stories acknowledge the sacrifices many women make, selflessly rising to the requests of everyday life when people need them.
In other stories, Christie gives us a glimpse of the guilt and fear felt by women needing self-care—women who have been raped or physically and emotionally abused by spouses, women who have fallen terminally ill or succumbed to drug addiction. Christie’s focus in these stories is never the physical. She doesn’t bring the reader to the doctor’s office for a diagnosis, revealing the patient’s terror or emotional paralysis, or describe a husband’s first shocking act of abuse toward his wife. Rather, Christie exposes the impact on the woman’s psyche after she has wrestled with these traumas for months or even years, allowing the reader to understand their battle to get to the other side, to appreciate how much helplessness has been felt before hopefulness sets in.
The collection includes a handful of stories that Christie writes from a male’s or child’s perspective, which come as an interesting twist among the female-led stories they reside among. Despite perspective, all are unified by the collection’s theme: what we see of one another is only a fraction of the total life, and probably not a very accurate representation. We see what’s directly in front of us, but much of life happens in the interior of our mind. The outside observer has, at best, a room with an obstructed view.
Christie could have left the reader with that message, but through the title story, which was placed last in the collection, she takes the reader one step further. Having shown through micro-glimpses into nineteen different characters’ lives that the substance of life occurs in the periphery, Christie communicates a piece of advice through Lena, the main character in “Peripheral Visions”.
When seventy-two-year-old Lena is diagnosed with cancer, her well-meaning niece creates a treatment plan and finds her a nursing care facility. But Lena’s not interested. She decides to forgo cancer treatment, seeing an alternate ending that her niece would never understand or approve. Lena sneaks away, driving from Ohio to Florida to live out her remaining days in solitude by the beach. But on her journey, she opens to the possibility that life has a different plan her, and her flexibility is rewarded. She befriends a young mother and shares her remaining months with her. At the conclusion of a life made full in a way she never could have envisioned, Lena advises: “Follow your heart and keep your eyes wide open. . . . Use your peripheral vision. See the possibilities.”
Natalie Metropulos is working concurrently on a middle-grade fiction chapter book and a nonfiction picture book series about wildlife photography. She holds a B.A. in English from the Pennsylvania State University and a JD from Duquesne University and is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Metropulos has been published (nee Natalie Rieland) in Kalliope, Research/Penn State Magazine, and Pitt Magazine.