Like the poise and refinement of many of her female characters, Hale’s elegant, polished prose style and impeccable handling of pace and structure can be deceptive, for on the inside her stories are raw, honest and often uncomfortable. Everyone, she suggests, has a secret, be it illicit love, a private hatred, jealousy, dislike of one’s children, a hidden fear, or selfish pleasure ... Hale writes stirringly of the natural landscape, especially mountains, woods and seashores ... First-hand experience of the social scene in both the American Northeast and South is evident, too, in her explorations of clashes between class, taste and money...racial prejudice...and of misogyny and sexual double standards ... In the stealthily hard-hitting narratives selected for Where the Light Falls, we find haunting, chilling, sometimes uplifting illustrations of Hale’s ability to shine a light into obscure places ... Readers will find that her luminous stories observe Dickinson’s advice, 'Tell all the truth but tell it slant … The truth must dazzle gradually'.
Hale was a writer of remarkable range—in tone and subject as well as quality. Variety is the one element that characterizes her work; otherwise, it’s difficult to say what makes Hale’s style 'distinct.' Some stories describe nature with freshness and precision ... Hale was particularly deft at placing herself within the psyches of unhappy children afflicted by a conviction that there was something essentially wrong with them. Hale was also an alert chronicler of the class prejudices and racism of her time, but the quality of these more 'socially conscious' stories is erratic ... Not all of Hale’s stories are worth remembering, but Where the Light Falls presents a convincing case that literary culture did indeed 'forget' the best of her work, all too fast.
A moment of shattered composure—a sort of negative epiphany—is a mainstay of Hale’s stories, and often serves to satirize the class into which she was born ... Hale dramatizes the struggle between what’s primal and what’s refined—and speaks at once of propriety and of the impulses that propriety seeks to undo ... Nothing in Hale’s Selected Stories rivals the zeitgeisty smack of a novel like The Group ... But, like McCarthy, Hale anatomized a species of midcentury woman who was at once whip-smart and periodically superficial ... The best stories in Where the Light Falls live up to Hale’s own conception of how short fiction should work. When it’s 'really good,” she wrote, a story “is like a glass that, struck, gives out a clear ringing that you can hear awakened in still other glasses' and 'that keeps sending that rung note farther and deeper and fainter down into consciousness.'
Hale’s personal experience of mental illness sparks some of the collection's best work: 'Who Lived and Died Believing' expertly blends a harrowing account of electric shock treatment with a sharp portrait of a kind nurse’s romance with a callous resident; 'Some Day I’ll Find You…' and 'Miss August' both anatomize intricate social interactions in psychiatric sanatoriums, the former with a comic touch, the latter in a darker tone. Hale’s prose is elegant without calling attention to itself, like the well-cut dresses one is sure her female characters wear. There’s a slight slackening in some of the later stories, but not in 'Rich People'...a marvelously complex examination of a woman’s seething ambivalence ... Classic examples of the art of short fiction, capturing the variety of human experience with sophisticated economy.
Skillfully introduced and selected by Lauren Groff, this excellent collection of 25 short stories by Hale...reintroduces an overlooked master of the genre ... Extensively published in the New Yorker and the winner of 10 O. Henry Awards, Hale’s insightful, artfully constructed stories remain irresistible—and relevant—today.