Aspects of Nature by Rhoda Rabinowitz Green

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green is the author of two novels, Slowly I Turn and Moon Over Mandalay. Her short fiction has been published in magazines and journals across North America, including The Fiddlehead. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart prize and was a finalist in the Canadian Writers Union Short Prose Competition. She lives in Toronto.

Short story collections are always a delight for me to read. I say that because you never know what you might get: will all the stories be good ones? Will there be some stinkers in the mix? Or are these just a collection thrown together by the publisher? With Aspects of Nature (2016, Inanna Publications) you’ll get eleven well-written stories. However, I especially enjoyed the several ones relating to the issues of growing older and the challenges of the elderly. No stinkers here!

The first three stories are set against the background of the author’s training as a classical pianist. In the end note of “The Wind at Her Back” the author tells us that the fictionalized character of Ari, pianist and master teacher, is a composite of two influential professors of piano, one of which is the subject of the second story, “Finding Maryan” which, in my opinion, is one of the best stories in this collection. It is a brief (only 34 pages) biographical sketch of pianist and holocaust survivor Maryan Filar but is the most fascinating, (since the author knew the man) serious and deeply moving story to be found in Aspects of Nature. Really, the subject is worthy of a full biography and Ms Rabinowitz Green should be the one to write it. The story certainly left me wanting to know more about the man.

As I mentioned earlier, the stories about ageing and the challenges of growing old, facing death, are where Ms Rabinowitz Green’s writing strengths lie. In “What’s Going on Here, Anyway?” Leon sits on a death watch at his wife’s bedside:

“Everything about his wife’s surroundings belied the horror of her state: crisp ironed sheets, lacy pillow-slips, eyelet duvet, the honeyed fruitwood four-poster in which she rested; on the dresser, Venetian-crystal miniature perfume bottles, wine and raspberry, dusty rose and trillium blue; chintz flower-printed chair in which Leon sat watching Shirley. She lay propped against pillows, looking straight ahead, neither to one side or the other, her eyes uncannily deep and dark and brooding, vacuous, except for rare moments when she laughed at something funny.”

What is fascinating bout this six-page story is the way the author makes you feel the claustrophobia of the bedroom, the stilted, repetitive conversations and the gloomy, unchanging environment with little in the way of  distraction for those keeping the deathwatch.

Two other stories, “Shayndeleh” and “Shayndeleh’s Real Estate” are centred on Jeanne (whose nickname is Shayndeleh, meaning the “pretty one”) an inhabitant of a senior’s home who  likes to watch Queenie, the beautiful goldfish swimming around the castle in the fish tank. Jeanne’s situation is captured beautifully by the author, recalling a life full of love, friends, family, houses and neighbours, and now reduced to one room (shared, at that); her personal possessions carried in a plastic toiletry purse on her lap which she regularly inventories.

“There’s only the distant past, no now now. Only a field of greyheads- that’s what she calls them – women mostly, asleep in wheelchairs, their chins dropped to their chests, their shoulders sagging, listless.

It is sad, but a reminder of our own lives, the brevity of which will soon find us older, senior citizens dependent on younger relatives, and in failing health which ultimately relegates us to live within a system with other comparable cases, reduced to a room with little more than a bed, chair and table.

While the tenor of Aspects of Nature is one of gravity and solemnity, there are lighter moments to be found, such as in her letters to her doctor: “Dear Doctor” and “Age Appropriate”.

I truly enjoyed Aspects of Nature, and I would definitely be interested in reading more of Ms Rabinowitz Green’s writings.

Aspects of Nature by Rhoda Rabinowitz Green
Inanna Publications

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.