2003 Iowa Short Fiction Award
“In her award-winning debut collection, Beth Helms offers up a cohesive collection of portraits of American couples, then breaks them apart and examines the cracks and the fissures in those relationships. The stories juxtapose the awful and the tender in such a way that truth, in all its complexity, resounds loudest. . . . a haunting snapshot of domestic worlds that we all fear to know.”—Rain Taxi
“Beth Helms's American Wives is a smart, various look at the uneasy bargains women strike with matrimony, but its real subject is the eternal push/pull of intimacy and identity. . . . American Wives is dangerous, politically perceptive, eminently skillful, and heralds a promising new voice. Reader, if you sometimes stand up in your life and feel like a tourist in alien territory, Beth Helms has something to tell you.”—Jayne Ann Phillips
“American Wives is an accomplished collection that explores fresh, intricate relationships in pristine and luminous prose, full of subtly arresting nuance.”—Marly Swick, author of The Summer before the Summer of Love
In Beth Helms's American Wives, winner of the 2003 Iowa Short Fiction Award, the women inhabit familiar roles—military wife, wealthy widow, devoted mother, lifetime companion. Yet despite their ordinary appearances, these women have deep secrets hidden beneath the thin veneer of duty, devotion, and privilege.
Set in both the United States and abroad, American Wives is about hope and disappointment, failure and resignation, desire and, occasionally, joy. A military wife abroad has a brief and totally unexpected sexual encounter; a wife watches as her husband, obsessed with the au-pair, has an affair instead with her best friend; a young woman finds herself destined to repeat the patterns of her mother's long-hidden infidelities. At the heart of each encounter is the overwhelming need to connect with others“whether they be lovers, spouses, friends, or family”while balancing personal desires. Too often, Helms's characters discover that being true to oneself means sacrificing the ones we love most.
As each woman seeks control of her life, we are reminded of the ultimate hope and possibility that can be found within our most intimate relationships. In subtle, yet convincing prose, Helms beautifully reveals the emotional depths that are reached in moments of true despair and longing.