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Reviews 129 Features that contribute to the high quality and distinctive voice of these stories are careful attention to details, providing authenticity of place, lan­ guage, character, and ethnic differences; convincing first-person narration from either female or male perspective; and perhaps the key feature of these appealing stories: the characters may receive a glimpse of understanding as a result of some crucial experience but never a complete revelation because the author is always alert to the limit of human understanding. She is aware of the fine line between laughter and tears, aware of the paradoxical complexity of human emotions that contain “both loss and finding,” and is aware that sometimes we have to “move away to see the placewe came from,”then “love it more for knowing what was lost.”First-rate stories. THOMAS W. FORD University ofHouston A BriefHistory ofMale Nudes in America. By Dianne Nelson. (Athens: Georgia University Press, 1993. 137 pages, $19.95.) Although the title of this book did not atfirst inspire great confidence, the stories themselves latched onto my imagination immediately. The plots un­ wind simply but with care and cause. Internal, balanced, and somewhat bare, they leave room for our own suppositions or ponderings without being obtuse. Setting and theme, though utilized less emphatically, develop thoughtfully, revealing subde designs compatible with the action. And, best of all, the characters ring clear and true, twisted and interesting. Their distinct voices, quirkybutcommonplace, mostoften carrythe weight of the stories’meanings. Once involved with the text, the confusion of the title recedes and the actions and situations of the characters rightfully come to the fore. These are people we could meet any day, who travel the roads we all know, who rush to the same emergency rooms, and frequent the same fast food franchises we do. And, though these characters are situated from California to Kansas to Kentucky, a working class spirituality unites them, a sense that they may not rule the world but can sometimes transcend suffering by sticking together. Even when the pain can’t be overcome, the comfort of togetherness will do. In one of the most powerful stories, “Evolution of Words,”youngJudd’s suicide draws his family around the kitchen table, “caved in”under the final realiza­ tion of his death, discovering that certain evocative words can barely be spoken even years later. Only the fragile web of family seems to subdue this pain and then, paradoxically, only when they utter these words and confront their agony. Other favorites like “Ground Rules,” “A Map of Kansas,” “Wintercourse," “Nocturne,”and “Frogboy”examine the everyday drama and humor of mod- 130 Western American Literature ern family life: child custody conflicts; step-parenting; maverick sexuality; and death, both expected and random. The working sensibilities and sincerity Nelson gives her characters and her even-handed attitude toward them remind one of Raymond Carver. Her style, however, is more direct and fast paced, and on rare occasion marred by clunky phrasing or clichés. Ultimately, these are not stories of “male nudes”—not portraits of static, pristine art forms and not revelations of only the male psyche. These are the struggles and giggles of human beings of all ages, male and female from east and west, who tangle, embrace, and at times drift apart like people we all could know. And, because of the dignity, fragility, andjoy the writer has given them, they become people we all should know. DEBRA L. PARK Central Wyoming College A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories ofWilla Cather. By Sheryl L. Meyering. (New York: G. K. Hall, 1994. 275 pages, $60.00.) Sheryl Meyering’s Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories ofWilla Catheris a useful addition to Cather studies. It provides a handy collection of resources for each of Cather’s short stories, offering historical, thematic and critical information. Each entry, in alphabetical order by title, can be a useful tool as either introduction to or reminder of the impact and influence of Cather’s short fiction, which has been generating ever greater interest among Cather’s read­ ers for the past several years. For each story, Meyering addresses five categories: Publication History; Circumstances of Composition, Sources, and Influences; Relationship...


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pp. 129-130
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