First some linkage, for those of you who also like background info!
Free ebook: at Gutenberg and University of Adelaide and Amazon (be aware that it's not always easy to find the free version of this at Amazon - a lot of Freeman work is sold there even when a duplicate ebook is at Amazon for free. Insert here your own mental-gif of me eyerolling at this idea.)
Length: 6 short stories, 152 pages (Look, a quick read!)
The Wind in the Rose-bush
The Shadows on the Wall
The Southwest Chamber
The Vacant Lot
The Lost Ghost
Author: Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
I'm somewhat embarrassed that I continually forget Freeman's name and work, even though I've read some of these stories many, many times. She's also a graduate of my undergrad, and you'd think that might have helped make her name stick in my head - but no. Not until I start reading and then finally the light bulb turns on and I have my usual "oh right, Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman!"
Freeman's work is found in many anthologies of ghost stories. Not that rereading her work bothers me at all - but then I'm like that with many older ghost stories. Hers are the kind of stories that run on atmosphere and characterization - no monsters or gore - and all have a very old fashioned feel to them. Some definitely work much better than others. Many focus on women and their interactions/relationships with friends and family - well, that and the ghost (or whatever It is), of course. Freeman's descriptions of women and their conversations somehow seem accurate and familiar. I realized I was assuming that in some of the stories the women were southern, but from Freeman's bio (and the occasional hints in the stories) I'm guessing that the setting for all of them is probably New England.
This is where that feeling of familiarity comes in - the conversations immediately had me thinking of accompanying my grandmother "going visiting," which in old southern-speak means dropping by a friend's house for gossip and ice tea/whatever beverage was offered. (In the south you must offer guests a beverage, at the very least. For anyone who drops by, not just friends - if you have a plumber coming over to fix something, and he stays to work for a long time, then he should be offered a drink. Thus is the unwritten Rule of Politeness I was taught. It's not a coincidence that the character Sheldon has a similar concept of When One Offers Beverages in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory - actor Jim Parsons is from roughly the same area of the south I'm talking about.) This in ye olden days of the 1970s, where people in small towns still noted the tradition of being "at home to visitors," and in some places women still used calling cards (Not in my grandmother's town though, it was way too laid back for calling cards. I had a high school friend who had her own though.) Anyway, Freeman's women share gossip and tell stories like women I've known.
Because the stories are all so short there's no way I can really summarize them without ruining something. I will say that I think one of the best is the last one - The Lost Ghost - and the first part/opening of the story is always what makes me forget that I've read it, because there's a gradual shift in tone (the second part is the heart of the matter). But I think the reason I like it us because it uses a couple of ghost story tropes (SPOILER:
a quick four - house "everyone knows is haunted" referred to at start, compared to actual house with ghost told about in second half, ghostly child that's a product of a tragedy, kindly maternal older woman who is selfless - I'm sure there are more. It's specifically the child ghost trope I'm thinking of that can get into maudlin territory.)
without being overly sappy with them. That's a pretty subjective call, but then I have read a lot of ghost stories from Freeman's time that were/are high melodrama and heavy treacle using some of the same tropes. There's a lot more to Freeman's work than those sorts of tales.