Ether: Seven Stories and a Novella
The characters in this striking debut short story collection wrestle with questions of success, failure, commitment, and responsibility.
Do you view life as “harsh and unforgiving,” or as a renewable source of optimism? According to one of Evgenia Citkowitz’s resilient, down-but-not-out characters in Ether, her striking debut collection of stories, the difference may be “more a question of attitude and the rebound effect of what you put out there into the ether.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
If that sentiment sounds a little New-Age Californian, you’re not totally off. Citkowitz, the daughter of American composer and pianist Israel Citkowitz and Anglo-Irish Guinness heiress and novelist Lady Caroline Blackwood (whose first and third husbands were painter Lucian Freud and poet Robert Lowell, respectively), was educated in London and the United States. She is a screenwriter married to British actor Julian Sands, and they live in Los Angeles, where many of her stories are set.
To say that Citkowitz comes from a background steeped in the arts is putting it mildly. Yet, with the notable exception of the title novella, which concerns a blocked writer who marries a Hollywood star and secretly mines their life for material, Citkowitz mainly steers clear of show business, writers, art, and, it appears, her high-profile autobiography.
Citkowitz’s strength is social criticism, and she captures tensions and pretensions with killer details – such as the supposedly indifferent mistress who digs her nails into her departing lover’s arm when she leans in for a perfunctory kiss in front of her husband. Her characters struggle to find their moral bearings and their identity, often without benefit of a known father. Many are privileged, but not in parental love.
Although some of her stories are a bit thin, her best, including “The Bachelor’s Table,” are richly nuanced. When a new father, Jonathan, who feels estranged from his wife, young son, and unhelpful, boozy mother-in-law, buys a multi-purpose 18th-century “bachelor’s table” he spots in a Sag Harbor antique shop on Christmas Eve, his purchase raises all sorts of issues. The table is nearly identical to one that Jonathan’s absentee father showed him during one of their two meetings – which continues to haunt Jonathan as a test he failed, since it led to no further relationship.