In My Escapee: Stories
(2012), author Corinna Vallianatos offers ten short stories featuring female protagonists. Each tale focuses on women who want something more, or something different in their everyday lives: from an elderly nursing home resident who struggles to remember her past and her lover to a young girl fleeing from an exam. Vallianatos’s stories “explore the emotional dimensions of the gap between identity and self-awareness” (Booklist
). My Escapee
addresses themes of marriage, friendship, sexuality, memory, aging, independence, love, and disappointment. Publishers Weekly
praises the collection for its “insight, humor, and elegance.” Vallianatos received a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony, and her stories have appeared in Tin House
, The Gettysburg Review
and other literary journals. My Escapee
won the 2011 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction.
The title story, “My Escapee,” features Genevieve, an 88-year old patient at a rest home in Ohio. Genevieve fears death. Because of her declining memory and tendency to wander, Genevieve was forced to leave her lover of 63 years, Margaret, to enter the rest home. Genevieve does not know where Margaret is now. Genevieve’s nephew, Fellow, visits her frequently. Out of the blue, Genevieve starts receiving packages from Margaret that challenge her memory. One contains a patch of flowered blue cotton, cut from her favorite dress, and a note, asking if Genevieve remembers the last time she wore it. The packages both test and frustrate Genevieve. When Genevieve escapes the home one day and gets lost, she realizes that freedom is not necessarily freedom. Fellow confides that he has been sending the packages: Margaret died in her sleep shortly after Genevieve came to the rest home. Fellow found the packages already created by Margaret, and sent them, not wanting Genevieve to think that her going into the home contributed to Margaret’s death.
In “Examination,” sixth-grader Anna is a “bit of a mystery” to the teachers and counselors at her school. Bright and frustrated with her classes, Anna keeps “waiting for her school…to be transformed into a temple of learning.” One day, while Anna’s parents attend a funeral, Anna is pulled from class to take a test that will gage if she is eligible to attend a gifted school. Anna is unsure if she even wants to go to a different school. She walks out of the test, wondering how her future self will remember the day.
College student Susan sends her roommate to infiltrate a mysterious, bacchanalian campus boy’s club in “Celebrants.” In “The Help,” a lonely young woman, “obsessed with being sick,” changes place with her nurse, Bobbie, despite the nurse’s prohibition against letting her clients get too attached to her.
The “Posthumous Fragments of Veronica Penn” presents a portrait of Veronica’s life across the years. Veronica’s memories are cataloged in random order, starting in 2007, then moving backward and forward in time. Veronica’s perpetual sense of longing is what has kept her alive for so long. In 2007, she remembers meeting her husband, Franklin, but would rather think about a young man she met in college. In 2008 and 2009, Veronica grows more forgetful and more medicated as she heads toward the “annulment” of her existence. She imagines what it will feel like to die, where she might die, and what she might do “from the other side.” Her memories, or “fragments,” reveal glimpses of her childhood with her brother, Julian; her marriage to Franklin; the birth of her daughter, Jane, and Jane’s difficulties in college; and things that make Veronica sad.
Mira, an aspiring songwriter who has never performed in public, has an affair with Hugh in “Sink Home.” Mira knows she made a “colossal mistake” when she married Daniel, a surgery resident: the two rarely have sex. Mira is “not sure of what she is, and this uncertainty feels to her like possibility, like space.” Mira gets up the courage to sing and play the piano at a local coffee shop. Hugh shows up her piano skills and ditches her. Mira returns to Daniel.
“Shelter” is narrated by a female balloon. In “Privations,” a wife catalogs the hardships of her life in a series of individually titled vignettes from her language and personal differences with her foreign sister-in-law to her frustrations with her husband and children. “Salvo” features Leah and Ian, who met at the funeral of their mutual artist friend and are about to get married. Ian is an artist of the “gauche ornaments of the world,” and while Leah feels tenderness toward Ian, she knows that he will “never be exactly who she wanted.”
The final story of the collection, “Civilizing Effect,” stars Edith, a 55-year old grandmother who says she does not want to date but moves in with Pete. Her partner has an odd sleep disorder called confusional arousal in which he seems to be awake, and can talk, sing, and even have sex without remembering it the next day.