Elizabeth Cox is among those rare Southern writers who bypass the expected and too often repeated elements of contemporary Southern fiction: stereotypical characters in bizarre situations, talking in colorful phrases, moving distractedly among the modern brand names of popular culture. Instead, Cox's fictive sensibility focuses on elements such as forgiveness, redemption and grace, giving her stories the deep and lasting appeal of those by Katherine Anne Porter.
In her short story collection, Bargains in the Real World, Cox examines the lives of 13 people struggling with tough choices. We meet Cox's characters long after real life has shattered whatever visions of the ideal they may have nurtured in childhood.
"Old Court" is the first person account of a fatherless 11-year-old girl's struggle to survive, with her mother's guidance, in the Reconstruction era. "The Last Fourth Grade" brings an unusual perspective to the problem of child abuse by focusing on the effect upon the wife, a beloved fourth grade teacher, who shoots her husband; the female narrator, a former student, visits her in prison.
One of the most haunting stories is "Land of Goshen." A childhood fever arrests the mental development of a boy whose mother comes to feel her life has been blessed. In this story, as in all her fiction, Cox sustains a plain and simple style. "The hour would be late before they stopped talking and playing games. Sara could hear the thunder grumbling in the distance, and the water dripping from the leaves gave an ending effect to the day that eased their minds." Cox brings her characters and her readers together on a level where seemingly small bargains are gains enoughCox won an O. Henry Award for "The Third of July," a story that follows a woman planning to leave her husband after 30 years, who reconsiders her decision after witnessing a fatal car crash. But all of the stories in Bargains in the Real World are winners. Elizabeth Cox's impressive career so far deserves more recognition than she has received. These 13 short stories demand and may get that attention.
David Madden has published 10 novels, including Sharpshooter, most recently, and over 30 works of nonfiction, including Revising Fiction.