Never Breathe a Word, The Collected Stories
The Shopping Spree
“The Shopping Spree” is from Never Breathe a Word: The Collected Stories of Caroline Blackwood (Counterpoint), a new presentation of Blackwood’s (1931-1996) best short work.
Blackwood’s dark temperament is perfectly realized in her writing, but is a puzzle in some ways given the facts of her life. It was a rich life literally and metaphorically. She was one of the most beautiful women of her generation (a film star-like beauty). She was loved by some of the most talented men of the age and married two of them, the painter Lucian Freud and the poet Robert Lowell. And she was well-off as an heiress of the Guinness fortune.
Caroline Blackwood wrote only a small number of books. Each has an intensity, a black and humorous concentration on the pitilessness of experience, which should ensure their survival. They are also very funny. The short stories and essays in this collection attest to her under recognized literary talent.
The collection is launched with “The Interview,” a disastrous interview between the veiled widow of a famous artist and a humorless, priggish young journalist, and filled with much verbal fencing. “The Shopping Spree” is a mediation on class that unfolds when a rich, getting-older wealthy women changes from one dress to another in an endless inability to make a choice in the company on an increasingly abrupt and irritated working class sales girl.
Carolyn Kellogg writing in the Los Angeles Times, said of the collection: “It is clear that we read for pleasure; what is less obvious are the varieties of pleasures we experience. Pleasing isn’t always pleasant. Take Caroline Blackwood’s stories — they are rare in their brutal exposure and are deeply troubling to read. Yet Never Breathe a Word is nothing less than a marvelous slide into an emotional abyss.”