It Could Have Happened, by Nancy Hill is a gorgeous collection of short stories, each inspired by equally gorgeous black and white photographs, taken by the author herself. Consider these, as the book’s subtitle says, fairy-tales for grownups. Love lost, love found, fortunes gained, fortunes lost, evil parents, evil children, women full of joy and wonder, men who lose their hearts at the first sight of a pretty girl – it’s all here. While the plot lines cover well-known ground, the writing is beyond compare.
In “The Bride’s Gift,” a beautiful young woman promised in marriage, listens carefully to the women helping her prepare for her big day. Men always love their brides, they say, but once brides become wives, men feel burdened and nagged. The bride, Dahlia, gives her new husband the gift of her own death, so that he will never know her as a wife, and be spared the pain of feeling trapped. After consummating their marriage, where “They moved with the grace of angels,” Dahlia goes to the barn, loops one end of a horse’s harness around her neck, fastens the other end over a flag pole and “stepped into nothingness.” Though her body is never found, “the white of her bridal gown crept across the ivy growing from the barn’s eaves, slipping from there onto the plants below until every plant, every tree, every blade of grass on their property had turned pure.”
“A Familiar Love Story,” is just that. A young man comes to town, is smitten with beautiful Faye, yet cannot be held down. His urge to roam it too great. Faye understands. “She saw wings in his eyes. Like a bird, he needed to fly. If he stayed, he would turn into a different man. One she would not, could not love.” The moon hits the hand he raises in farewell, and Faye thinks that perhaps she sees feathers poking from beneath the cuff of his shirt. She has an illegitimate son, remains alone year after year, until late in life the man returns. “She saw him hold out his hands, and the moonlight lit the small mound of white feathers he offered her. The quills were bent now, the vanes and down had thinned.”
Not all ends well, as in “Sweet Vicious Students,” and “Darling Be Home Soon.” And while these are not the only tales in It Could Have Happened where evil is hatched and cruelty results in death, Hill nevertheless manages to ferry her reader on a fabulous journey full of love and life again and again. This is a writer who sees magic everywhere, makes the mundane remarkable, and the plain spectacular.