Reed, Kit

views updated


Born Lillian Hyde Craig, 7 June 1932, San Diego, California Writes under: Kit Reed, Kit Craig, Shelley Hyde

Daughter of John R. and Lillian Hyde Craig; married Joseph W.Reed, 1955; children: Joseph, John, Katherine

A graduate of the College of Notre Dame in Maryland (B.A., 1954), Kit Reed began her career as a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida before moving to Connecticut to work for newspapers there beginning in 1956; she won the New England Newspaperwoman of the Year award in 1958 and 1959. Since 1974 she has taught creative writing at Wesleyan University. Her fiction is richly colored with the very different settings of Florida and New England. She has held Guggenheim Foundation grants (1964, 1968) and an Aspen Institute Rockefeller Fellowship (1976), and in 1965 became the first American recipient of a five-year literary grant from the Abraham Woursell Foundation. Reed has published short fiction in over 60 anthologies and in American and international magazines. A short story, "The Singing Marine," was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1996.

Although Reed has published in several fields, she is best known for her novels of self-discovery and for her science fiction. From her earliest novel, Mother Isn't Dead, She's Only Sleeping (1961), which satirically confronts the pieties around aging, Reed has defied convention. The source of her defiance is moral indignation, even outrage; her most typical response is edgy humor and satire.

Disillusionment is a common theme in Reed's portrayal of character. Often outsiders seeking acceptance, her characters invariably come to recognize their own romanticism as well as the shallowness of the conventions they've been pursuing. They realize as well the need to create their own world to make up for the failures of what exists. Reed's characters are sometimes overburdened with meaning, cast into allegorical structures reflecting her concern with the moral subtext of her fictions.

Reed's ventures into novels of self-discovery have been warmly received by critics. The Better Part (1967) and Tiger Rag (1973) are stories of adolescent girls coming into maturity under difficult circumstances, acutely aware of their status as outsiders. Tiger Rag, like the earlier Cry of the Daughter (1971), focuses on struggles between children and a mother who is proud, stubborn, and controlling, although perhaps not intentionally so.

In The Ballad of T. Rantula (1979), one of Reed's most critically successful coming-of-age novels, her speaker, the adolescent Futch, uses a relaxed colloquial voice reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Futch's voice is both difficult and believable as he narrates a year of his life during which his parents split up and his two best friends go through changes he can neither understand nor control. Those with whom he has been most close are moving away from him and no adult will level with him; the adults are oblivious and foolish, the children remarkably sensitive and conscious of what is happening around them. T. Rantula was named to the American Library Association list of Best Books for Young Adults for 1979.

Self-discovery is also the theme of one of Reed's best-known adult novels, Catholic Girls (1987), the story of four graduates of a Catholic women's college who reconverge at a bizarre funeral. Like an earlier work, Captain Grownup (1976), the book focuses on middle-aged characters whose internal growth seems incomplete; Reed allows each to come to a comfortable catharsis by the end. The success of the novel rests in the ambiguous Kath, who has consciously abandoned Catholicism. She is spiritually hungry, filled with nagging, inescapable remnants of her Catholic past; in the end, she is inspired toward her own freedom and vision, although it remains unclear whether this is a sign of something deep and powerful or is merely delusional.

In the 1996 mainstream novel J. Eden, three families decide to rent a farmhouse together for the summer "so the parents could…stretch and grow and OK, find themselves." The children play and squabble; the adults circle each other, their hidden feelings finally simmering to the surface. Every chapter is narrated by a different character, each of whom reports the same events with powerfully different emotional reactions. At first close friends, their story moves through revelations of professional envy, fear of aging and failure, despair in unfulfilled lives, adultery, and parental neglect toward a tragic ending. The various dark, enclosed spaces that set the stage for the drama—spooky barn, mysterious shed, frightening cave—suggest the hidden dark spaces within each character.

Although Reed's style and themes have remained essentially consistent through her many books, she has experimented widely with genres. Her first science fiction novel was the horrific Armed Camps (1969), in which her protagonists struggle to retain their humanity in an overmechanized world where war is the norm; others include Magic Time (1980), Blood Fever (1982), Fort Privilege (1985), and Little Sisters of the Apocalypse (1994). In Magic Time, the story of four characters attempting to escape a violent and fascist Disney World-like vacation park, she creates a prefabricated, allegorical world of concentrated authoritarianism. The novel is written in four voices, following the thoughts of the characters as they seek a way out of "Happy Habitat." Here, as elsewhere, Reed's attraction toward allegory controls the characters and their setting.

Her fondness for painting social and temperamental contrasts is vividly indulged in Fort Privilege, in which maddened poor besiege the aging rich in a deteriorating near-future New York. Little Sisters of the Apocalypse is another story of war and what it does to women: it renders them self-paralyzed, turns them into creatures of waiting. A town of women stashed on safe, beautiful Schell Isle grapple not only with their ambivalent feelings toward the eventual return of their belligerent men but with the bizarre arrival of 16 nuns on motorcycles—the Little Sisters of the Apocalypse. This short novel was a nominee for the James Tiptree award, which is given to works exploring or expanding gender roles in science fiction and fantasy.

Weird Women, Wired Women (1998) is typical of Reed's collections of short fiction. Assembling stories written between 1958 and 1996, the book presents vision after gruesome vision of the tormented relationships between mothers and children, between men and women, and between women and themselves. In "Songs of War," an army of unhappy housewives and lesbians start an actual war against the men in their town, but they are merely humored, and when they finally drift back home, "things went on more or less as they had before." In the horrifying "The Hall of New Faces," an aging mother undergoes radical facial surgery with a plaintive cry against peer pressure and the unfair demands society makes of women: "We all hate what age does to our faces, but there are worse things.… We hate ourselves when what we ought to hate is what people do to us." In "Last Fridays," several women who regularly meet for boastful but uncomfortable discussions about their role in raising their children are gradually revealed to be the mothers of serial killers.

In two novels published in 1993, Reed embarked in a different direction. Gone and Twice Burned, both written as Kit Craig, are psychological thrillers. Critics consistently note the intensity of Reed's fictions. John Clute has described Reed's style as "prepubescent in its clean, clear tone, and…ominously pregnant with meaning." Frank Kermode praised Armed Camps for offering a "new imaginative intensity and a power of communicating insights as dark as they are compassionate." Reed has a particular ability, one reviewer noted, to "metamorphose the ordinary into the macabre." She has often been compared with Shirley Jackson.

In addition to novels, collections, and Fat (1974) (an anthology of personal writings about obesity, edited with an introduction by Reed), she has provided direct, sensible advice to writers in handbooks, the central theme of which is characterized by the title of a 1989 volume, Revision.

Other Works:

At War as Children (1964). Lighthouse: A Story (1966). When We Dream (1967). Mister da V., and Other Stories (1967). Love Story (1971). The Killer Mice (1976). The Bathyscaphe, (radio play, 1978). Other Stories and: The Attack of the Giant Baby (1981). The Savage Stain, (as Shelley Hyde 1982). Story First: The Writer as Insider, (with Joseph Reed 1982, reissued as Mastering Fiction Writing, 1991) The Revenge of the Senior Citizens (1986). Thief of Lives: Stories (1992). Strait (1995). Closer (1997). Some Safe Place (1999). Seven for the Apocalypse (1999).


Reference works:

CA (1967). CANR (1986, 1992). Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). SATA (1984). Science Fiction Source Book (1984). St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (1996). WW in America (1982). WW of Writers, Editors, and Poets (1989). WW in Entertainment (1988).

Other references:

America (26 Dec. 1987). Best Sellers (1 July 1970, 1 Apr. 1971). Booklist (15 Mar. 1998). Books and Bookmen (Mar. 1968). Boston Globe (17 Mar. 1996). Dream Makers (1983). LATBR (21 Apr. 1996). LJ (1 May 1992). LAT (25 Dec. 1992). Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Dec. 1980). Newsweek (19 Apr. 1976, 22 June 1992). New Leader (4 June 1979). NYTBR (8 Mar 1964, 4 July 1976, 17 June 1979, 1 Mar 1981, 1 Nov. 1987, 12 July 1992, 17 Jan. 1993, 21 Apr. 1996, 19 July 1998). PW (24 July 1987). Science Fiction Chronicle (Nov. 1991). WP (20 Nov. 1992). WRB (1995).