Review by: Moira Richards

5/01/02

Croning Tales
By Elayne Clift

Croning Tales comprises twenty-two short stories by Elayne Clift. The volume was first published as a collection in 1996 but almost half of the stories were published individually over the preceding eight years in various magazines and anthologies. One of the earliest was prizewinner in a writing competition.

As if patriarchal discourse did not have enough derogatory terms of its own with which to denote women, it has also laid claim to a number of neutral woman-words. It has taken a word such as "crone," for instance, that meant nothing more than "old-woman" and has overlaid it with a myriad of misogynist connotations -- "ugly," "evil," "redundant," and so on. Clift prefaces her collection with an explanation of its title, and she subverts the work of patriarchy and reclaims the term "crone" by pointing to some of the positive connotations that "crone" or "old woman" might have attracted in a pre-patriarchal world -- "wise," venerable," "experienced." Elayne discovered, shortly before her own fiftieth birthday, that she too had become such a crone, and this is a book that celebrates croning at all ages, for none would boast that they have no more wisdom to learn, and none are too young to begin their collection of little wisdoms that will ultimately earn them the respected title of "Crone."

Elayne Clift's collection of stories encompasses the gems of knowledge that women acquire by learning things about themselves, and also those that come through their knowledge of other people around them. Twenty-two women in twenty-two different phases of women's lives, and in each story a woman earns a smaller or bigger piece of wisdom. Some of the women put their little gem to work for herself immediately, others store it safely away for future use.

There are the women who learn at last, how to stand up to an abusive or manipulative husband, and the woman who repays an exploitative Mr. Wrong in the most wickedly satisfying way. There is the lonely grandmother who takes the first tentative steps into a new friendship.

Other stories tell about women who reach into their store of wisdoms to help them through a current crisis, some show the high price that is oft-times paid to earn these wisdoms, and one comic story admits that some of the wise things that we learn, come to us more by good luck than by any just desert of our own.

And of course, there are tales about the fine old crones who relish the woman that she has grown to be, and enjoy her without apology or compromise -- as I am sure, will the reader.

ISBN: 0963482734

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