Do not be fooled into thinking the female protagonists in Pia Z. Ehrhardt’s knock-out debut, Famous Fathers and Other Stories, are passive. They are not.
This is not the 19th century—there is no awakening. This woman is not about to head into the ocean. She’s already there, already reborn, and she’s taken charge. She’s in control. She’s got her own place and she’s generous with her freedom.
But like the levee, the reservoir, the water tower, the bridges—she is contained, but just barely. And the men who believe they are restraining her, who believe they have the upper hand, aren’t and don’t. Even in the waterless landscape—the desert—she remains in control, because after all she lives. She rises again like Lazarus—and she is her own Jesus (not the fellow who gives her a ride to the hospital. He’s made to seem important, but we know she would have lived whether he came along or not).
Like the levees we are all so familiar with now in the post-Katrina world, if you make the wrong move, if you push her too far, the woman will break free. She will flood her restraints—she will take over your streets, your house. She will send you fleeing from the city you love. But she doesn’t do this in these stories—she keeps herself as much in check as she can stand. And why? Well, for love. Love is the ultimate prize, the gift. She will do just about anything for love—and truthfully she finds getting it from men easy enough.
So what is she seeking then? What is it that drives her? The key is in her relationships with other women—the mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, other wives—living and dead. These are the people who have power over her. These are the relationships that are tricky, that require finesse. These are the relationship which frustrate and devastate and maybe even leave her feeling powerless, though not beaten. She will keep at it, keep trying to understand because that is what will bring some relief to the hurt: empathy.
The famous fathers? Well, they’re really just a way to try to understand the distant mother—the one whose high-heeled footsteps you hear echoing on the floors down below you—walking away, loud on wood, on tile, and muted with carpet. But always—always—with the father following behind, and the daughter left to wonder if she will ever return.
An absolutely smashing collection which will leave you with Ehrhardt’s powerful and confident voice ringing in your ears. If you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself dog earing every other page so that you can go back and read a certain passage again, relish it. These stories will grab onto you and not let go anytime soon—and you won’t want them to.