It is now old news that John Updike selected the title story from this volume of short stories as one of the best American short stories of the century. Quite an accomplishment for Ms. Dark. ´´In The Gloaming´´ is the story of a young man with AIDS who comes home to die and his mother´s caring for him in his last illness. Early in the story Laird and his mother Janet are sitting on the terrace at the close of day. ´´´The gloaming,´ he said, suddenly. She nodded dreamily, automatically, then sat up. She turned to him. ´What?´ Although she´d heard. ´I remember when I was little you took me over to the picture window and told me that in Scotland this time of day was called the ´gloaming.´. . .´I always thought it hurt you somehow that the day was over, but you said it was a beautiful time because for few moments the purple light made the whole world look like the Scottish highlands on a summer night.´´´ Thus Ms. Dark sets the mood for this beautifully and delicately understated story. Janet seizes the waning days of her son´s life. Each fleeting moment is precious as both of these individuals seek to know more of each other in the little time they have left. Laird´s father Martin husband is not so lucky. He is one of Ms. Dark´s characters who suffer from opportunities lost, a recurring theme in several of these stories. I must say the only jarring note in this exquisite story is Janet´s deciding on a bagpipe for her son´s funeral. I understand that this is a Scottish instrument. I just have heard ´´Amazing Grace´´ played on the bagpipes one too many times at memorial services for friends and acquaintances who died of AIDS. This is purely my own bias and probably unfair to Ms. Dark.
To me, many of these stories are equally as good as ´´In The Gloaming.´´ I particularly liked ´´Home.´´ This is again another story of the waning of life and the way loved ones react to the coming loss. In this instance,Gordon and Lil are being moved into an assisted living home--what a euphemism-- and Lil, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer´s, asks and is granted permission to visit her home for one last time. There are no villains here, just decent people trying to make the best of a sad situation, the loss of health and ending of life as these two old people know it and their daughter Charlotte´s trying to do what she perceives as the right thing for them. One can hardly fault her for doing what she has to do. Although she tries, she cannot know completely the utter horrow her mother faces at the loss of both her home and her intellect.