Author: JaneGillette
Publisher: Missouri Review Books
ISBN: 978-1-945829-06-2

 Jane Gillette says she began writing stories in 1962 for a creative writing class at Vassar College. The Trail of the Demon and Other Stories, published in 2017 collects eleven of her stories, all of which were published in literary reviews—The Yale Review, Michigan Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly, Missouri, Zyzzyva, Hopkins Reviews, Antigonish—and most of them published since 2010. The Missouri Review's editors were impressed enough by Gillette's writing to make this book the first in the publication's new imprint.

Gillette grew up in Muncie, Indiana (which appears in a couple of the stories), where her father managed a shoe store. She says she been an adjunct college teacher of freshman composition and a writer for association magazines devoted to historic preservation and landscape architecture (and Amazon lists a book called The Most Beautiful Gardens Ever Written: A Guide by a Jane Gillette who I am going to assume is the same person). She says about her personal history, "I more or less ran a press devoted to landscape architecture. Spacemaker published books and a bi-monthly magazine and I anonymously wrote lots and lots of things for them."

So she's an interesting writer, if hardly a household name. She's been working in a very special vineyard, the world of literary magazines. I like to think of myself as well-read, but I'm afraid I'd never heard of any of the people who praise the book: Daphne Kalotay, Anthony Varallo, Tina May Hall, Nancy Zafris, John J. Clayton. That I'd never heard of them no doubt says more about my limitations than it says about Gillette. (For one thing, it gives me a list of authors and works to investigate.)

Because Gillette apparently writes slowly and carefully, the stories are worth savoring and studying. She often makes it clear that what you're reading is a story; it's not pretending to be life. The title story begins, "This isn't a very nice story, but I feel I should tell it because at the time of the assault I lived six houses away from Dawn, and she has so much to say I thought I'd never hear the end of it." The Ghost Driver begins, "Let me tell you a story about how we became the success we are today." And Meditation XXXI: On Sustenance begins, "Since there's only one scene in this story and it takes place at McDonald's out on McGalliard Road in Muncie, Indiana, I'll first kill a little time discussing food."

By allowing the reader to see backstage like this, Gillette risks decreasing the story's emotional impact. We know Othello doesn't really kill Desdemona. At the same time, Gillette is skillful enough to engage the reader even as we know what she's telling us only a story about made-up people and invented places (Muncie, Washington, DC, Vassar). And she manages to dramatize how actual events, memory, and myth slop into one another so that not one is entirely real or true.  

Let me quote from Speer Morgan's Forward because his observations about what she's accomplished are better than what I could say. In the story A Preface for Mrs. Parry, Gillette's suggests that "not only do relationships and even marriages become insignificant over time, but some of our most important personal memories may be so affected by self-mythologizing as to represent desire more than fact." She tells the story Divine Afflatus from two points of view and indicates that "personal tragedies become the sense through which we see the world and about how the world may refuse to soften, even for the suffering." Not a cheerful message, but a necessary one.