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Bear and his Daughter: Stories by Robert Stone Houghton Mifflin, 1997, 222 pp., $24 The characters in Robert Stone's fiction like drugs. Many of them favor crystal meth (speed), and Stone's prose often has an intensity and urgency to match their tastes. In several of the stories in this collection , this pacing and Stone's acute eye combine with spectacular results . "Helping" is a lucid, unshrinking portrait of addiction's effect on love. Eliot Blankenship faUs off the wagon and, as a result, his marriage crumbles. In "Under the Pitons," four acquaintances try to make it as small-time drug runners and realize they're strangers. In "Porque No líen, Porque le Falta," an expatriate named Fletch gets stoned and decides to take a ride up a Mexican volcano with two lowlifes who seem to hate and distrust Fletch almost as much as he does them. There's not much more to the story, but Stone's pacing and suspense are irresistible. "Miserere" is the best story in the collection. Mary Urquart is a Ubrarian who lost her family in a tragic accident . She soothes her pain and guilt by stealing aborted fetuses and having them blessed by a priest. While there are no drugs in the story, it, like the others, is a tale of addiction . Mary's addiction, though, is to the love, hate and power of zealotry. These stories (and "Absence of Mercy") work because they're not forced or self-conscious. "Aquarius Obscured," however, is not so successful . Alison finds solace from her abusive marriage and ruined career by popping pills and taking her child to the aquarium. But what should be the most revealing part of the story—a hallucinated conversation with an aquarium dolphin— comes off as a flabby Hunter S. Thompson knock-off. Alison freaks out when she discovers the dolphin is, in fact, a fascist. The ambitious title story, "Bear and his Daughter," is similarly disappointing. A liquorand drug-loving poet named Smart is giving a lecture at a college not far from where his daughter Rowan works as a park ranger. After getting booted from a Tahoe casino, Smart stops in to see her. Up to this point, Stone has laid the groundwork for a great story, creating well-formed and interesting characters with bold, simple details. But here the accelerated pace and dramatic conclusion that work well in simpler stories fails because the story is simply too rushed, and we're left feeling like we just watched a great movie with the third reel left out. Stone writes wonderful stories about people on the edge or just over the edge. With the exception of human-dolphin conversations, he is a master of dialogue. His sense of pace is irresistible. Stories as strong as "Miserere" and "Under the Pitons" demand that we cut him some slack for his missteps. (WJ) Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum by Michael Waters BOA Editions, 1997, 77 pp., $20 (cloth), $12.50 (paper) The epigram to Michael Waters' Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum is a quote from Lawrence Durrell's Justine : "Who invented the human heart, I wonder? Tell me, and then show me the place where he was 226 · The Missouri Review hanged." This new collection of poems, like Durrell's sensual writings , paints the desires and shortcomings of the human heart. The title poem depicts the hardship of a relationship deteriorating: "So as I lay there, the roof bursting with invisible/branches, the darkness doubhng in their shade,/the accusations turning truths in the not-loving,/Green Ash Red Maple, Black Gum, I prayed,/in the neverbeen -faithful, in the don't-touchme ,/in the can't-bear-it-any-longer,¡Black Gum, Black Gum, Black Gum." Waters' work also demonstrates how nature can instruct us on art and creation. The bare branches of winter trees in "First Lesson: Winter Trees" illuminate the path for art and life: "So the task is simple: to live/without yearning, to kindle/this empty acre with trees touched/by winter, to shade them without simile,/without strain. There: the winter trees./Their singular, hushed sufficiency." Overall, Water's genius is his ability...


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pp. 216-217
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