Books by Harriet Zinnes

Known mainly as a poet, Zinnes here collects 29 very short stories—many previously published in the littlest magazines—that are variations on a theme made all too plain in the title. Typical of Zinnes' often blunt and unimaginative use of language is the quasi-poetic "Two Roads," an effusive account of a woman preparing to meet her lover ("It is ten o'clock in the morning. The air is fresh and lovely. The sun high up tantalizingly clear. It is morning"). Deliberate repetition, run-on sentences, and staccato nonsentences characterize other prose poems as well: "Grope," about the literal pounding of the heart; "De l'essence," an impenetrable word-jag ("In houses. Houses? Not here. Alone. Nothing. Grass. . ."); and the title story, in which a woman tries to distinguish her lover from "the Other." More conventional narratives find lovers in various stages of their passion, from the post-coital meditation on the language of desire ("Stars, Etc.") to the story of a woman who exercises the "cumulative hate" of her gender towards men by stabbing a lover in the hand ("Cosmetic Instrument"). A woman bemoans her lover's nonconformity ("Poolside"), while another grows impatient with her predictable beau ("Green Caterpillar"). A married woman sleeps on the floor as "an act of pure will" ("Pure Will"), and a less happily married one wishes her husband would just leave her alone ("No Rabbits"). Of course, adulterers also abound, but the best stories here deal with a failure to mate and a fear of intimacy. In "Black Snake," a writer having breakfast at a truck stop spurns a pathetic female drifter; and in "Uptight," a woman who fears "her nameless desires" makes brief contact with an intriguing, deranged man. A number of surreal and allegorical bits manage to overcome excessive familiarity by sheer weirdness. Zinnes is capable of lucid moments, shedding light on a few of the heart's darker recesses. Mostly, though, these stories suffer from stilted dialogue, unidiomatic diction, and no narrative drive whatsoever. Read full book review >