Wineberg examines crisis and recovery in book
by Jeff Armstrong, North Dakota Spectrum, Contributing Writer

Ronna Wineberg, fiction editor of the Bellevue Literary Review, writes perceptively of the pain, recovery and uncertainty that are part of daily life.

Wineberg’s "Second Language" is a subtle and sensitive short-story collection portraying women coming to terms with the anxiety and exhilaration of crisis and transition.

Facing the prospect of divorce, disease or the loss of a loved one, her characters are forced to invent new languages to reflect drastically altered realities.

The realization that things will never be the same induces a predictable sense of loss and foreboding in Wineberg’s protagonists, but it also offers a potential for growth and renewed strength.

Because they are compelled to redefine themselves, her principal characters sometimes refer to reliving their girlhood with all the awkwardness and potentialities that come with it.

Wineberg’s opening story, "The Coin Collector," portrays a widowed woman’s encounter with a coin dealer who helps her face up to the challenges and opportunities of life after the death of a spouse.

The coin dealer, a survivor of Nazi death camps, offers her reassurance and perspective, as well as the possibility of future happiness. She initially feels robbed of her past when the dealer walks off with the coins he purchased.

However, she seems to realize that the transaction lends meaning to what must have appeared a mere manifestation of her husband’s failures during his lifetime.

In death, he provided her the material means for a new life. She can thus love and cherish her late husband even more as she immerses herself in a "Second Language" and embarks upon a new path.

The "Second Language" of Wineberg’s title story refers to the duality of an extramarital affair.

Jolted into awareness by her mother’s illness, a woman questions the legitimacy of her present life and wonders when she will find her true life – the destiny she imagined awaited her as a child.

She longs to validate her relationship with her lover, to free it from the flashiness of clinical hotel encounters, but she finds herself unable to detach.

It is as if she is trapped in an emotional limbo, loving both men and needing them for different reasons.

The possibility of losing her mother makes her destiny appear more elusive and uncertain.

"Second Language" is more sobering than uplifting, but it does celebrate the resilience of the human spirit in the face of physical and personal calamity.