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/? ^* ^ **,.-. ^l£ Before and After by RoseUen Brown Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1992, 354 pp., $21 Carolyn Reiser is a successful pediatrician. Her husband, Ben, is a househusband and sculptor. Together with Jacob and Judith, they form a family, "an eight-legged graceful animal alive under a single pelt." Then Jacob murders his girlfriend , and the Reisers' comfortable "before" becomes the nightmarish "after" that is the subject of RoseUen Brown's ambitious book. Brown is best known for the acclaimed novel, Tender Mercies. Her fiction has been praised for its convincing realism and strong characters , and Before and After deserves similar praise. Brown is unswervingly accurate in her depiction of how people feel, and what they do when faced with an unbelievable catastrophe. With inteUigence and insight she dissects the "eightlegged animal" to show how the Reisers respond, both as individuals and as a unit, to Jacob's violent crime. There are no clichés here, no loyal-to-the-end parents, no heroic attorneys, no bad seeds. The story is utterly beUevable and provides some satisfying surprises; the ending is unexpected, yet completely right. Now and then Brown's meticulous attention to verisimUitude leads to over-explanation, but on the whole, this is an excellent and readable novel. Moon Crossing Bridge by Tess GaUagher Graywolf Press, 1992, 99 pp., $17 Moon Crossing Bridge, Tess Gallagher 's sixth book, is a remarkable and unforgettable accomplishment , a rhythmic journey into her feelings about the death of her husband, fiction writer Raymond Carver. Throughout the collection , GaUagher takes us back and forth across her "bridge" of feeling. Love, sadness, and remembrance are entwined in poems that breathe life into death and display an enormous range of memorable imagery. Divided into six sections, suggesting a movement toward reconciliation, these poems speak in an almost dreamlike way of resurrection and the renewal of the spirit that eventuaUy foUows a devastating loss. Moon Crossing Bridge is a testament to GaUaghefs wiU and talent. The Call of the Toad by Günter Grass Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992, 248 pp., $19.95 Günter Grass describes his protagonist , Alexander Reschke, as 204 · The Missouri Review "shabbily elegant," which characterizes this novel as weU. Told by a narrator who pieces together the story from notes and diaries given to him by Alexander, the tale has a rambling , fragmented quality. It traces the love between a middle-aged widow and widower who venture into the cemetery business, offering plots to Germans exUed during WWII. Their comic love story is set against the tragicomic backdrop of German reunification. Grass's sense of setting gives historical importance to the simple lives of his characters, and his sense of detail imbues their story with whimsical and touching moments. Ripley Under Water by Patrida Highsmith Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, 310 pp., $21 Patricia Highsmith is a cult crime novelist just corning into general recognition. She began writing in the 1950s, but her works are reminiscent of the romans noirs of a sUghtly earUer era. In Ripley Under Water, Highsmith's fifth Ripley novel , Thomas Ripley, an American art dealer and sociopath living outside Paris, discovers that another American who has moved into his neighborhood knows about his past crimes and wants to expose him— for no reason other than his own amusement. The action is Uke that of a French movie: plenty of café scenes and subtle conversations, and a striking lack of weaponry and fast cars. Part of the strangeness of Highsmith's novels—and crime novels generaUy—is that they are seemingly amoral. The story's only defect is its foregone condusion; whichever Ripley novel one reads first is inevitably the most enjoyable. However, aU five by themselves are great novels of their type, and a few of Highsmith's fifteen non-Ripley novels (The Tremor of Forgery, for example) are even better. Henry James, the Imagination of Genius: A Biography by Fred Kaplan WiUiam Morrow, 620 pp., $25 There are a lot of reasons for disliking Henry James. He was in some ways the ultimate priss, writing about characters who must, above aU, "do the right thing." They are creatures scarcely of flesh, whose overarching virtue, like their sources of income, may...


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