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The Lives ofKelvin Fletcher: Stories Mostly Short by Miller Williams University of Georgia Press, 2002, 172 pp., $24.95 Wide national recognition came to MUler Wiltiams when he read his poem at President BUl Clinton's second inauguration. The literary world had long known WUliams as a poet, translator, essayist and editor who had authored, coauthored, translated or edited thirty books (including twelve collections of poetry) as well as founding the University of Arkansas Press. Now Williams adds fiction writer to his accomplished vita with his debut collection The Lives ofKelvin Fletcher: Stories Mostly Short, which includes seven stories and one novella. Kelvin Fletcher is growing up in a delta town in the early 1940s, the only son in a famUy that comes from a line of Methodist clergy. At the start of the book Kelvin is ten years old, and by the end of the noveUa that caps the stories, he is a young man in college. Balancing Kelvin's sensitivity and intelligence with youthful awkwardness and mischievousness, Williams creates a character who is an ideal lens. Kelvin is a bungler, a seeker and a wit. His seU-doubts ring true, as do his adventures with famUy, with pals, with troublemakers, with gtils and with teachers. His is a boyhood so well observed, so expertly detailed, as to make the whole experience new and wondrous. By middle school, Kelvin knows that he is somehow a marked man, thathe is always the one to get caught. This knowledge adds a wonderful mock-heroic element to scenes in "The Wall," in which Kelvin and some other boys discover a hole in the rafters above the girls' locker room. Mix this heightened seU-awareness ofbad luck with Kelvin's acute Methodist sense of sin, and each encounter with gUls—and later with women—takes on a comic cast. Even Kelvin's relations with boys and men are comic. To save his cabinmate 's soul at a church camp, Kelvin swipes the older boy's rubbers, hoping that this wUl foU a rendezvous with temptation. In the supper Une, Kelvin drops the rubbers from his wallet—and the camp's best Christian soldier is nearly drummed out of the ranks. Williams is neither laughing at Kelvin nor lampooning reUgion. Though the language in which Kelvin examines his spiritual and physical Ufe is always simple and direct, the troubles Kelvin wrestles with are only made more complex by this plain speaking. In this way the stories are close cousins to WiUiams's poetry, in which straightforward language reveals myriad computations of the heart. Williams is a master at this plain talk. Describing hitchhUdng in the pouring rain, he writes, "Cars whizzing by broke blades ofwater against our legs." When Kelvin ponders the cycle of sin and forgiveness, Wiltiams writes, "Thinking, he felt the guilt again and then the broken Ught of the sun like the fingers of God washing him clean." In each story Williams explores the growth of the imagination and shows us what happens when it confronts hard mysteries of life. Kelvin can imagine Heaven and Jesus waiting The Missouri Review · 185 there, but his own waywardness, the avarice of others and the looming presence of death obscure that image and befuddle him. The seven stories of boyhood and youth, all told in thtid person, are background for the adult concerns of the novella, "Coley's War." Told in the first person, the long story tracks four seniors in coUege who are drawn into a Latin American revolution. If there is any disappointment in this collection, it is only that the novella is so very good that it begs to appear in a collection with other noveUas of the same length and quality. While the stories inform our notion of who Kelvin is and what he is becoming in "Coley's War," the novella leaves us desiring more and eager to see what's next from Wiltiams. (SY) One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian translated from the Chinese by Mabel Lee HarperCoUins, 2002, 450 pp., $26.95 Nobel Prize winner Gao's key metaphor in his latest novel is announced by the protagonist's lover, Margarethe , a German Jew who confides...


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