Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer
Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket is a brilliant collection of short stories spanning Hilma Wolitzer’s entire career. From 1966 to the 2020 pandemic, the stories are largely set in New York City and brim with reflections about noisy and uninsulated apartments, motherhood, troublesome neighbours, marriage and life in America. Other stories reflect the fractured structures of the American dream, and the tensions that arise from being a housewife during the 1970s. Wolitzer perfectly captures the rage and limits that accompany domesticity in the confined settings of New York’s apartments and dense city living.
Written in 2020, the last story, ‘The Great Escape’, is the most poignant of all. Wolitzer reflects on her experience during the early stages of the pandemic, starting in early March when the virus began circulating viciously in New York. She articulates the anxiety we all shared in the early stages: out-of-stock face masks, bare supermarket shelves and the isolation. She remembers the first Zooms, calls from panicked family members and then the inevitable – she and her husband contracting the virus. Days pass in a feverish haze and her husband is admitted to hospital. Wolitzer describes the cruel and stark reality of the virus – her husband dies alone in a Manhattan hospital, without her by his side.
Many of the stories from the 1960s and 1970s remain timeless and relevant; they exist in a space removed from the current pandemic, invoking nostalgia for a pre-Covid world. Wolitzer’s observations on motherhood, marriage and domesticity are astute, pertinent and often hilarious. Fans of Annie Dillard, Elizabeth Strout and Lauren Groff will devour Wolitzer’s intelligence, storytelling, and wisdom.