Lauren Groff invites a new generation of readers to rediscover the haunting stories of a neglected mid-century master. Hale’s stories typically concern women recognizable to all of us—sometimes fragile, possibly wicked, deceptively ordinary, navigating their way uncertainly through life.
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.'