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keeping the wounds of the past open and bleeding: "It was a maternal impulse. Of course it was. A deep desire to keep your dead as a constant ache in your heart, and not just a memory or a pain somewhat eased. It had to always be that thing that ruined your life." Grim as that may sound, the sisters come to realize that even if they can't change the past, they can make the best of the future. Schaffert closes the book with a graceful portrait of sisterly bonding that's like a sUent-film camera iris slowly closing. (DA) Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler Dial Press, 2001, 274 pp., $21.95 In his debut collection of stories, David Schickler is foUowing the current trend to link stories together in a larger tale resembling a novel. In the case of Kissing in Manhattan, the stories hover around three characters , their several friends and associates and one distinctive and haunting apartment building aptly named The Preemption. The title of this book makes it sound more jaunty than it is. The first story, "Checkers and Donna," plays at first on our expectations of lightness. Checkers is a frank and opinionated man whose personality evolves quickly from obnoxious to disarming (at least to Donna) by the story's end. The plot is an easy one: boy meets girl and through force of charm wins her despite her exasperation . But the nerve of this collection lies not in the plots but rather in the distinct and magical settings Shickler creates for these present-day fantasies. Consider the restaurant in which Checkers and Donna dine, known as Hat Michael's: "Everything about Flat Michael's was simple. The owners brewed their own beer, and the taps on the draft handles read simply: Lager, PUsner, Stout. The owners also fetched their wines from a vineyard of undisclosed origin , and their liquors from unknown stills. The racks behind the bar held unadorned bottles labeled Vodka, Gin, Rye, or Chardonnay, Chianti, Port---- The menu had just ten items each night. These items were listed on a giant chalkboard, with no prices or side dishes assigned. On this particular night the menu was: Trout, Tongue, Eel, Veal, Moussaka, Shoots, Lamb, Brains, Noodles, and Snake." Schickler writes in the same way that Flat Michael's handles its business : direct. Short. To the point. Elegant . That said, he is by no means a minimalist. His manipulation of character involvements is more complicated and his plots are bigger than the quiet, harrowing moments typical of minimalists. An English teacher visits the home of his oddest student and nearly brawls with her father prior to a bizarre marriage proposal. In another story a woman discovers her own beauty only when she is bound by the neck in front of a mirror. Schickler's vision of the New York of his parallel universe is also beautifully realized. Aside from Flat Michael's, other haunts include Minotaur's, a dance club with many rooms and haUways where people are often spiritually and literally devoured; Cherrywood's Lounge, a shadowy place with single malts, sirens in evening gowns and leather 196 ยท The Missouri Review chairs where avuncular comedians teU stories; and The Preemption itself, a grande dame of an apartment buUding with commanding views, high ceilings, wood-and-brass trim and the city's oldest functioning Otis elevator, which serves as the buUding 's spine and, for at least one resident , a confessor. James Branch ultimately tells the entire central story of Kissing in Manhattan to the elevator, but not until late in the book. Branch, a meek accountant who keeps to himself while working to control his stutter, is introduced early in "The Opals," in which he discovers a phantom presence underneath a sex store who hands out rare and priceless jewelry. James finds himself with a pair of opal earrings and a mission. James's roommate, Patrick Riggs, is a stockbroker who tikes to carry a handgun, tie up a different beautiful woman every night and then leave her in his bedroom while he carouses in the next room with unknowing friends. One suchwoman is Rally McWilliams, a writer in search...


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pp. 196-197
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