The Wine of Astonishment
Mary Overton
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Get *The Wine of Astonishment* delivered to your door! The Wine of Astonishment
Mary Overton
La Questa Press
180 pages
November 1997
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Mary Overton's first book, The Wine of Astonishment, succeeds on every level as a collection. Strung together like beads on a magical thread, these stories seize the reader with fresh insight from first page to last with a blessed lack of pretention. Overton's tales delve into the dark back niches of the human mind, where our strangest and most forbidden thoughts and impulses lie hidden. This collection gives us permission to embrace our restrained musings, to let our fancies take us where they will.

Curled Up With a Good BookThe characters in The Wine of Astonishment vary widely in age and social station, in the scopes of their desires and needs. What they all have in common is a sudden ability to see through the veil of prosaic acceptability that enshrouds the sparkling magic at the heart of life. Extraordinary events, as well as ordinary events seen through extraordinary eyes, have the power to change lives and perceptions, to force the realization that they want more from life upon those living it.

The title character in "Butterfly Girl" is a young child, innocent enough yet to not understand the restrictions upon what she might become, who longs to fly away with an annual migration of monarch butterflies. In "After the Kill", unexpected confrontations with varying faces of death inspire a sea change in a cleaning woman's senses of ambition and curiosity. A reel-to-reel tape recording of a dead mother instills a young woman with the ability to hear machines talk in "Mother Machine," and what they have to say is nothing like you'd expect.

A young single mother encourages a friendship between her small daughter and a neglected immigrant child until she is forced to choose between convenience and responsibility in "Ruth." In "Visiting the Pakistanis," a child again pulls a woman into the ironically incomprehensible and uncomfortable world of neighboring immigrants.

"Ladies in the Trees," possibly the best of these stories, tells the Southern gothic tale of a poor white trash family whose patriarch is addicted to the acquisition of knowledge and whose women -- with a notable exception -- can see ghosts, and of torpor that can drive a family mad. A suburban witch preys on obsessive middle-aged male runners, turning their mid-life crises into literal prisons in "Running." A recent suicide in "After Life" reflects on life, death and what comes next. "Mr. & Mrs. Tattoo at the Amusement Park" conveys dead-on the self-consciousness of adolescence as a girl discovers in the most painful way the relative insignificance of apparent normalcy. The title story, "The Wine of Astonishment," brings dreams of flying to life, but in a world where fliers and dreamers are pressed into the painful molds of realism.

Misspent youth and the palliative power of happy memories, no matter how dim or false, are the core of the poignant, unanswered "Letters to Ellen." In "The Close," an itinerant cookware seller covets the plainly normal lives of the fairgoing women who purchase her wares. And in "Fly-by-Night Weddings," such a young woman about to be married rejects the expectations of others for her life and for the predictable direction it ought to take.

Overton's stories surprise the reader into new understanding. They rattle us out of our ruts to where we can see the magical potential that lies quietly behind the veil of our day-to-day routines and ways of seeing. First published in such renowned reviews as Glimmer Train Stories, The Southern Anthology and The Belletrist Review, the stories in The Wine of Astonishment are of the rare sort possessing the vitality to affect our awareness of the world where we live.

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