September 30: “Lost Women, Banished Souls” by Garnett Kilberg Cohen

Friday’s here, Story366! I hope you’re all having a good start to your weekend. I’ve had a pretty rough stretch this past week, in my office every night, away from the family. I ate poorly, binging on take out and vending machines, and haven’t slept more than four hours in over a week. The lawn needs mowing, leaves need raking, and I never trimmed the bushes this past summer. The sidewalk in front of my house is coming apart, the garage door doesn’t work, and there’s a clog somewhere inside our broken trash compactor.

My oldest son, ten years old, was arrested for trafficking heroin over the Turkish border and is in a prison outside Istanbul—it doesn’t look good. The younger one, three, made it through the police academy, but as it turns out, he was working for an Irish mobster the whole time, texting valuable info whenever Martin Sheen wasn’t watching. Karen has taken up with her masseuse, this Swedish guy who used to be a pro tennis player. The cat converted to scientology. Lochte’s still on Dancing With the Stars.

What I’m saying is, I’ve been away. I’ve missed things. I’ve been missed. That tough stretch is over, though, and hopefully I can reclaim some of my life. Right now, I’m watching the first episode of Luke Cage and it’s fantastic. I promised a couple of students we could talk about the entire season on Monday; I don’t see that as a problem. If my kids get out of trouble by tomorrow, we might go for a walk. Karen said she’d go, but wants to bring Sven, which is a fair trade.

Tonight I read from Garnett Kilberg Cohen’s collection Lost Women, Banished Souls, out from the University of Missouri Press. I know Cohen a bit, as she teaches at Columbia College in Chicago, a place I’m rather fond of. I’ve read her work in journals before, too, stories here and there. I read a few pieces from he collection, including the title story, which I’ll write about here.

“Lost Women, Banished Souls” is about an unnamed narrator, at a cocktail party at the start of the story, with her husband, a defected Russian scientist. They’re at the house of more former Russian scientists, a couple, great friends from the homeland. These people thought they’d said good-bye to each other for the last time back in Russia, but these three, as well as several others spread out all over the country, have made it their business to see each other again, friends for life.

And that’s the irony here, how our unnamed narrator doesn’t seem to have friends, or at least she can’t keep them. She’s recently broken up with (that’s the phrase she uses) with her last and longest friend, Caroline, and uses this occasion, at this party, away from Caroline, to run down every friend she’s ever had. The cocktail party is just a frame, as from there, one by one, this woman describes every friend, near friend, and companion she’s ever had, and most importantly, how her friendship with them ended. And in every case, from pre-school through adulthood, these schisms are definite, and often executed with extreme prejudice.

Okay, I’m being dramatic, quoting Harrison Ford in Apocalypse Now, but really, when this woman loses a friend, she loses the friend for life, bad blood boiling forever. Her best friend as a kid, Patty, never speaks with her again when she makes her miss the bus for school one day, on accident. Another woman, Sheila, stops speaking to her when she won’t accept a job offer that Sheila worked hard to arrange. Yet another, Gwen, might be the most tragic case, as our narrator overslept when she was supposed to be providing emergency babysitting, Gwen missing an important appointment because of it. She never sees Gwen again.

There’s about a dozen of these narratives in “Lost Women, Banished Souls” and each of them is tragic, to a certain degree, all of them compelling. The way they’re lined up, one after another, reminds me of the inventory of one-night stands in Susan Minot’s “Lust.” Eventually, that frame comes back around and we’ve returned to the Russian scientist gathering, our hero off by herself, brooding, remembering all these women that she loved and then lost. She’s despondent about Caroline, at a crossroads in her life. I won’t go any further into the plot, but Cohen ends the story solidly, in a way that makes perfect sense and is ultimately satisfying.

I enjoyed the stories from Garnett Kilberg Cohen’s Lost Women, Banished Souls. From what I can tell, the title doesn’t come from just the title story, but all the stories in the collection, a solid theme that’s exhilarating and tragic. It’s a solid book for sure, a nice read for a Friday night.



One thought on “September 30: “Lost Women, Banished Souls” by Garnett Kilberg Cohen

  1. Pingback: October 1: “Hope” by Ben Greenman – Story366

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