“Victims are necessary so that the strong may excercise their will and become more strong,” wrote Jean Rhys fifty years ago in Quartet. Civil rights, the Women's Movement and child protection laws notwithstanding, cultural and familial imperatives die hard.
In The Uncle and Other Stories, Joan Shaw's timely and sensitive first book, the pathology of passivity is surgically laid bare; the archetypal tribal tale of five women, victims all, is recounted with acerbic wit and jarring perception, as the original scourge—the flesh and blood male provocateur—in times becomes a psychis succubus thwarting all attempts at self-integration.
Through telescopic time shifts and contrapunal harmonies of past and present, Joan Shaw illuminates the once dark corners of our experience. In “The Uncle,” one of the last taboos of our culture to be confronted in literature, incest, is chronicled with superlative sensitivity as Anna, the narrator, who is at once child of eleven and grown woman with a daughter of her own, struggles to graft new integument on the flayed body of her persona:
These vignettes of women, wrenched from the orderly progression of time and event by cataclysmic circumstance—incest, encroaching insanity, imminent death—present an ever shifting kaleidoscope of women as victims.