The Courts of Love
Nora Jane Whittington, the primary focus of the novella that makes up the body of this collection, is a heroine in the classic Ellen Gilchrist mold: beautiful, crazy, ungovernable, and loved by all who know her. The kind of character who is too adorable for words — one you’d think you’d hate, except hating Nora Jane is well-nigh impossible, thanks to her creator’s affection for her, and her ability to convey that affection. It is Gilchrist’s great talent, one honed in a dozen other books, all featuring women just like Nora Jane. The Courts of Love is a contemporary fairy tale: a mixture of the utterly surreal (Leonardo da Vinci makes an appearance), the very real (a bookstore owned by Nora Jane’s husband gets bombed, and a visiting poet killed, for reasons a la Rushdie), and the quietly real (Nora Jane, sensitive about her lack of a degree, returns to college). Throughout, Nora Jane remains the epitome of the steel magnolia, the calm eye to which her husband and daughters gravitate. In the end, as in all fairy tales, everyone lives happily ever after — and if such a conclusion is not terribly realistic it is, in any case, comforting. And it’s repeated in the nine short stories that follow.