Elizabeth Tarver’s subject is all that is noble and ridiculous about the modern south—in particular, her longtime home of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. In her short fiction, she tweaks the absurdity of pride, the pressure of convention, and the small-mindedness of insular places—but always with deep sympathy and imagination for the emotional lives of the people who live there. She reserves a special love and attention for the misfits and oddballs, those who find they don’t quite belong but can’t quite escape. In the tradition of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, she writes about a hothouse world whose inward-looking communities are at once stifling, interfering, callous, courteous, hypocritical, long-remembering, loyal, and, when occasion calls, profoundly humane. Always she turns the coin to let us see both sides. Her fiction goes beyond mere local color to moral and emotional questions that are universal. She doesn’t for a moment allow us to believe that we’re more sophisticated or clear-sighted than the people she writes about just because we happen to read literary magazines. After all, it’s been said that the American South is like the rest of the United States, only more so. Her writing can be lyric and heart-rending, but the dominant mode is comedy: her characters, and her prose style itself, are infused with a spirit that refuses despair, even at the bleakest moments, and keeps laughing in the face of defeat.
You can view Elizabeth Tarver’s work in IMAGE issue 71 here.
I am working on my first novel, tentatively entitled The Charlets of Octavia Street. The book is inspired by my experiences in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Like many Gulf Coast residents, my house flooded, my family was uprooted, and I lived a nomadic existence as an evacuee for a season. The characters in my novel are an eccentric, insular New Orleans family who face similar difficulties and embark on an adventure that challenges their individual and collective understandings of identity, home, loyalty, and devotion. Edith Charlet is the eighty-eight year old matriarch who initially refuses to evacuate and leave what is familiar and comfortable. She is firmly rooted in the past and her identity is tied closely to New Orleans. Edith’s granddaughter, Marigny, struggles to keep her unconventional relatives in line while trying to please her practical husband who favors leaving the state for good. Sometimes the results are humorous, but I am keeping the overall tone serious, particularly the characters’ preoccupation with the past and place, as well as their reluctance to accept the change God allows in their lives.
I also have a second novel in mind, based on a short story I wrote over the summer. In it, I hope to explore the issue of Southern pride of ancestry in terms of its destructiveness in a Louisiana family that has fallen into degeneracy. The repetition of sins through the generations is something that interests me.
Elizabeth Tarver’s short stories have been published in Image, South Dakota Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Thin Air Magazine, Eclipse: A Literary Journal, Snake Nation Review and elsewhere. She was born and raised in Louisiana and has degrees from Louisiana State University and Loyola University New Orleans. For many years, she lived in New Orleans with her husband, Robert, and their two sons. Since 2007, she and her family have lived in Raleigh, North Carolina.