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to you, just as much as meeting someone or going on a trip. What you thought and felt when you were alone or silently in the presence of someone else also made a story." But the story that will linger the longest for me is ZZ Packer's "Brownies," about a troop ofBrownies from the suburbs of Atlanta who conspire to beat up a troop of white girls at summer camp. The story's sad, tender and regrettable crisis is matched only by the power of its quiet dénouement, where Packer's narrator comes to realize "there was something mean in the world that I could not stop." Moments like these reveal what short fiction has always done best: illuminate and instruct. These stories do just that. (AV) House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III Vintage Contemporaries, 2000, 365 pp., $14 Now and then a novel comes along that makes us recall what really good fiction is all about. A really engaging plot, for one thing—conflict in which the stakes are high enough, matter enough, that we truly do care. And characters who feel so real that we have to wonder where indeed is that line between flesh and word? What is keeping these people from stepping out of the pages of this book? And something else that the best of fiction has—perhaps has always had: a larger scope, often a social, historical or political context that extends the work's range beyond the contemporary emphasis on relationship and yet immerses us deeply in relationship , never causing us to feel we've been manipulated, subjected to an authorial agenda of some kind. And a style that packs meat on bones in terms of its vividness, its authentic rendering of felt experience, its glimpses into the human psyche: one that is raw at times in its candor. It's a rare work that has it all; yet this is precisely what we find in Andre Dubus Ill's House of Sand and Fog, a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award for Fiction and an Oprah Book Club Selection. The twists and turns of the plot keep us hooked. A woman, Kathy Nicolo, abandoned by her husband, left with the house she has inherited from her father—essentially all she has now—loses this one possession due to a clerical error made by the San Mateo County (California) Tax Office, which has gotten her address mixed up, because ofa typo, with that of someone else who owns a business and does owe taxes, we presume. She loses the house. This is grossly unjust, Kathy believes, but beyond that, there's the simple fact that she needs her home back. It was her father's house and, practically speaking, she has nowhere to go, other than to live with her new boyfriend, Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon, who (and here's a real kicker) was officially responsible for evicting her from her house but who has taken a sudden interest in her well-being. If this scenario seems a bit quirky, it is made even more so by the fact that the house, soon auctioned by the county, becomes a key investment item for one Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani, a very proud and fairly desperate Iranian immigrant, who fled Iran after the fall of the Shah and who has done everything possible to 174 · The Missouri Review reestablish himself and his family with some dignity in this new land. When we first meet Behrani in the opening pages of the novel, he is working on a highway cleanup crew, but he soon realizes that he will do better and have more status if he becomes successful in real estate. This means making a huge profit on Kathy's house, which he buys for a song. A kind of microcosm of the historical conflict between Middle Eastern and Western cultural attitudes , beliefs and values emerges and develops as the plot brings the Kathy/Lester duo and the Behrani family into various hostile encounters that ultimately lead to tragedy. The rigorous, nearly deterministic logic of the novel is provocative and invites this question: Are we mostly who we are because...


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pp. 174-175
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