Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring 2003

Hunger by Jane Eaton Hamilton  


Jane Eaton Hamilton
Oberon Press, Canada
157 pp. No price listed




Jane Eaton Hamilton’s new story collection, Hunger, reels off portrait after portrait of the anxieties and difficulties inherent in human relationships: A jealous man has trouble with his wife’s flirtatious relationship with a young coworker. A Canadian lesbian takes her partner to Key West hoping to rekindle their relationship and ends up reflecting on the importance of matching haircuts. A man coping with his wife’s mastectomy steals a fake breast at a breast cancer symposium. A newly uncloseted lesbian has to deal with the emotional problem of her loving husband. A father cannot bring himself to love his newborn, resenting the distance the child has imposed between him and his wife. A woman suffers from a mysterious cardiac problem that won’t go away. A lesbian is surprised by the sudden unexpected pregnancy (through covert “traditional” methods) of her lover, who may or may not be a wannabe. A father has problems dealing with his twenty-year-old daughter’s sexual liaison with an older man.

At its core, this collection displays riveting but subtle examinations of pain while exploring the problem of loving another human being in an uncertain universe. Hamilton’s prose shows a reserved emotional depth that matches and accentuates a similar sense of reservation in her protagonists. These souls—men and women, lesbian and straight—all are riven in some measure by the divide between expectation and reality, yet they more often than not hide their pain and dismay with terse locution or subtle masks formed from routine and blind hope. Hunger bleeds pathos in an assured but seldom obvious manner, consistently splattering the reader with torrents of concrete anxiety. One can tease out a distinct vein of the existential in Hamilton’s cool, marbled prose and it is this (along with her distinct and controlled voice) that makes her collection eminently readable. Little wonder that many of Hamilton’s stories have been honored with substantial awards. Her ability is clear.

I suppose I would be remiss were I not to address the lesbian angle in many of these stories (though in a perfect world I probably wouldn’t have to). Having had numerous friends and acquaintances from that side of the aisle, I was pleased to see that Hamilton’s investigation of the emotional and relational difficulties involved within the many-faceted lesbian subculture hits spot on. The emotional problems of gays living in or seeking committed relationships differ little from the problems of straight individuals in similar circumstances: there are questions of common interest, of jealousy, distrust, anxiety, insecurity, anger, diminishing emotion—all the hobgoblins that trouble anyone struggling with love and/or commitment. Hamilton’s lesbian stories simply show the universality of romantic experience and the ridiculousness of gender classification in an open society. Her male protagonists have the same problems as her female and lesbian protagonists—they all suffer from the inescapable tribulations of life.

Jane Eaton Hamilton’s Hunger is elegant, controlled fiction bursting with pain, prospective tragedy, and hope. We recommend it without reservation.