Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Six Women is an interrelated collection of short stories written by Karen Truesdell Riehl. The Chester Writers Club held monthly meetings at which a selected member would read one of her works to the group. It was expected that the others would feel free to offer constructive criticism, with the unspoken understanding that anything harsher might lead to dissension and an unpleasant evening, which did inevitably, if rarely, happen. While the six women had very little in common, they all loved to write and had gotten to know each other through a writing class they had attended at a community college. The youngest was 42 years old, and the oldest, a venerable 93, with the others' ages scattered in between. As is indeed the case with most such clubs or groups, there was the one who seemed to fit in the least; who the others would gossip about when she wasn't there and often expressed a wish that she might not attend that month's meeting. And, as is also the case, Glenda, that odd-woman-out, knew it. Even so, when Glenda was injured in a car accident and was in the hospital, the members murmured their sympathies, but Greta, the eldest, was not content to leave it at that. She was going to go to visit their bedridden fellow club member, and, reluctantly, the others followed suit.
Karen Truesdell Riehl's short story collection, Six Women, is a remarkable and compelling read that will richly reward the reader who decides, like the Chester Writers Club, to venture onwards. The author gives each of her women a unique voice and outlook on life, and each shares with the reader a capsulized view of the history that's made her who she is. I was especially taken with Sheri's story; the published writer who wrote self-help guides to happy marriages and whose dream marriage and perfect companion hid a fatal flaw. Annie's story of the summer she learned to read is poignant and unforgettable, as is Barb's story as the “bad” girl who got pregnant, was sent off to live with an irascible great-aunt and found comfort, love and life where it was least expected. Riehl saves the best for last, however, in Greta's tale. The 93-year-old's story, starting with her early life on a farm in North Dakota, is stunning and lyrical. As I read each of these impressive stories, I began to realize that my initial impressions of the Chester Writers Club were superficial at best. This deceptively short volume packs a lot within its pages -- and it's all very, very good. Six Women is most highly recommended.