Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Gone


Gone
by Elisabeth Sheffield

Paperback
2003
Price: $13.95

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Gone plays a hide and seek game between desire and loss in the hills of upstate New York. The narrative alternates between the first person, sometimes stream-of-consciousness voice of Stella Vanderzee, a California freeway flyer with an unfinished dissertation on Sylvia Plath, and letters written by Judith (Juju) Vanderzee, Stella’s aunt and the one-time lover of Stella’s mother. Stella receives these letters from an old family friend early on in the novel and then loses them before she has a chance to read them.

The plot centers on Stella’s search for an inheritance, a Homer painting supposedly left to her by her rich paternal grandfather, a legacy that never existed. Unaware that the painting is gone before her search begins, Stella sees it as compensation for the loss not only of her idyllic childhood in small town America, but also of her mother, the one-eyed multi-media artist Barbara Salzmann, who, Stella believes, committed suicide.

As Stella, accompanied by her lover and former student, the beautiful opiated Skip, resolutely seeks what she believes is hers, her beliefs and assumptions, about her grandfather’s mistreatment of her mother and her mother’s failure as an artist, about sexuality and desire, are juxtaposed with the history recounted in her aunt’s unsent, unread letters. What Stella sees/doesn’t see becomes intertwined with the alternative version of her artist mother presented in Juju’s “communications,” as well as questions about art, perception and possession. Gone is an attempt to give form to what has been lost—the pastoral past, the feminine body—even as that attempt is inevitably the undoing of what it retrieves.


"Interspersed with Stella's drink-and-drug-fueled monologues are letters from her Aunt Judith—usually to people Judish knew at best peripherally. The letters, which are given to Stella, who almost immediately loses them, are the best part of the book. Judith's voice is entirely convincing ..."

Review of Contemporary Fiction


"Gone contains the most compelling cast of cows in current fiction, and its featured humans are also tasty to ruminate over....Sheffield’s novel explodes the possibility of recovering, or even understanding, the past despite the still-tender ache of its wounds.  Gone is a wickedly funny, beautifully intricate, and unexpectedly moving journey into the unknowns of any and every life."

Greg Bills


"There's more here than just a comparison of memories--this is no upstate Rashomon-lite. Sheffield's loser protagonist--searching for an inheritance that was gone before she arrived, losing her boyfriend, her job, her aunt's letters, even her hotel room--is the archetypal lost person searching for home."

Review of Contemporary Fiction


"Sheffield deftly balances the southern gothic with her mordant wit; her distinct and spiky characters are sure to intrigue readers and win her new fans."

Booklist

 

Excerpt

Gone daddy gone…I don't know why you suggested that I come here. OK. You're right. You didn't suggest anything. You can't. There's nothing behind those deepset hooded eyes but the void yet the mouth mumbles as if saying a rosary while the fingers fumble with the edge of the sheet counting invisible beads… But you were an atheist, weren't you? Forgive me. Your mouth mumbles as if it isn't saying anything your lips expanding and contracting as rhythmically as the oral cavity of a fish. Is that better? Less judgmental more objective and scientific? I hope so because of course you're no more culpable than the carp trapped beneath the ice of the Otsego no more accountable than the sleet that smears the windows of the Lakeview Lodge for the Aged as I sit here by your bed.

Still I can't help feeling that you owe me something. You're my granddaddy after all the Big Fish who spawned us all with a sweep of his mighty tail. And so it stands that I'd swallow Juju's hook and line if not the sinker about how your grandfather has something he wants to pass on to you before he dies…Remember the old painting that used to hang in his study, the one of the young girl watching over a herd of cows in a field dotted with buttercups? Why shouldn't I believe her why shouldn't it be a Winslow Homer an early American gem to make up for the one I lost when you banished us to LaLa Land? Fair is fair or at least square cuz that painting's got to be worth a mint. So give me a home where the Mohicans once roamed where Abner Doubleday invented a pastime where mapletree sap flows thick and sweet where boys and girls play in the woods until the owl gives a hoot and Mommy hollers time to hit the hay. And if I can't have that I'll take a check.