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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 of external forces that shape us, sometimes making us do foolish things—even destroying us? One might imagine so, given the downward spiral of dissoluteness and irresponsibility that both Kathy and Lester find themselves descending on. The pace of the novel—a kind of methodical advance toward doom—gears the reader up for the curtain's closing. We can't help but feel unsettled by the stark and rather bizarre events that close the novel. Yet it's the deep humanity of the characters that ultimately lives on after we've closed the book. When we reflect on it, choices seem profoundly free after all, as conditioned by circumstance as they may appear. It's sand the characters' lives are built on; it's fog (literally as well as metaphorically) they move in. It's truly a world full of traps, losses—a world marked by cosmic Kafkaesque irony, almost—yet Dubus' characters participate fully in their own undoing . But finally there is hope, even in the bleakest circumstances, as Kathy Nicolo demonstrates when, in the end, she takes responsibility for her actions and claims the full measure of her own humanity. There's hope and beauty too. QS) The Means ofEscape by Penelope Fitzgerald Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 224 pp., $18 Penelope Fitzgerald's usual gorgeous economy of words is at play in The Means ofEscape, a posthumously published collection featuring eight short stories by the famously—and brilliantly—succinct British author, who died in April 2000 at the age of eighty-two. Each of these fine stories, previously featured in British periodicals between 1977 and 1999, brims with the attributes that have marked her work since Fitzgerald's first novel, The Golden Child, was published in 1977 (when the author was sixty years old, as critics are fond of noting). There's the droll humor, the consciousness of aesthetics, the smart and never heavy-handed or tired treatments of class and gender. And there is Fitzgerald's "substantial lightness"; her playful, almost fragile writing is at the same time symbolic and often morally charged. Her fiction , although dense with meaning, never seems like a dense read. Several of the pieces have the feel of a parable, albeit without clearly articulated meanings; these stories are elegant and idiosyncratic enigmas . "The Axe" is the most fantastical story in The Means of Escape; the The Missouri Review · 175 collection's narratives generally treat plausible but quirky scenarios with uncommon originality. They unfold in a variety of settings: "The Prescription ," for instance, occurs in Turkey during the epoch of the Ottoman Empire, while the melancholy and comedie "The Means of Escape" is set in an English parish. The story, in which three characters pursue freedom from prisons both literal and socioeconomic, offers insights into class, friendship, romance and, in the end, literature itself. Such complexity is the hallmark of this collection; for instance, "The Red-Hair Girl," set in nineteenthcentury Brittany, is one part exploration of the relationship between the sexes, one part skewering ofartistic contrivance. Another story with an artist at its center, "Beehernz," is the story of a music festival director 's ill-advised attempt to lure the eponymous, reclusive conductor into leading a concert performance. As in the other stories included in The Means ofEscape, "Beehernz" displays an exquisitely rendered realism that manages to be simultaneously believable and dreamlike. Although the stories are excellent, one wishes they had been...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 175-176
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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