Likely Stories: The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames

Dec 19, 2019

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

According to the dust jacket, Elizabeth Ames is a graduate of the University of Michigan MFA program, where she won the Hopwood Award.  She has published a number of short stories.  Elizabeth was born and raised in Wisconsin, and she currently lives in a Harvard dormitory with her husband, two children, and a few hundred under graduates.  This is her first novel, which always draws me to new writers.

These four women were randomly cast together into a dormitory and they instantly bonded together seemingly forever.  Ames writes, “Alice balanced her knee on the ledge, did a calf stretch.  Ji Sun ran her fingers along the edges of a tasseled pillow, thought briefly of the pasties she’d seen in the back pages of the free weekly newspaper.  Margaret sat straightaway, crossed her legs at the ankle as if posed for a portrait, and gazed out the window while her older sister unpacked her boxes.  Lainey stacked the cushions off to one side and did a secret spin on the bare bench, perched high above the courtyard […] How they became friends was no great mystery, but how they remained so, braiding their lives together” (2).  They also learned “they were all second daughters” (2).  I found these opening passages intriguing, and, as it turned out, the novel rewarded my early interest.

Each one of these women has made a terrible mistake, and only their close friendship helped them weather these storms.  Elizabeth writes, “Though the four shared as many meals together as possible, there were already times, three weeks into the semester, when their schedules necessitated other permutations.  Alice and Ji Sun took early dinner together every Wednesday night before Alice went to weight-lifting, while Lainey was in rehearsal and Margaret met with her writing tutor” (13).  As I learned early on in my dormitory experience, these bonds can be easily established, but few have the strong bond these four women shared.

The four stories and the four terrible mistakes are too long for this short review; however, I will show some of the trauma Alice suffered.  Ames writes, “[Alice] was twelve.  ‘That part’s true.  My brother and I. we were riding together, and it was my fault.  I…caused it,’ Alice said.” // Her sisters didn’t know.  Her brother didn’t even know!  Since the accident—everyone in the family called it this—the bit of fuzz around his brain had remained there, fat on a pork chop.  Only her parents knew that Alice had pushed him, and they were the ones who named what happened an accident and made it so.  Her grandparents were both dead now, took whatever they suspected with them. // ‘I say it was a car accident since there’s less to explain.  People don’t ask many questions” // Alice looked at Ji Sun with what Ji Sun took as both accusation and understanding.  Alice had a secret, and she was giving it to them to hold.  They inched closer to Alice; they wanted her to know they would accept” (35).  This is only a sliver of what actually did happen, and the truth will out.

This gripping story of the four secrets these women harbored throughout their lives could only be told by friends who are tightly bound together.  The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames is a story I found hard to put aside.  I believe you will find it just as eye-opening as I did.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!