Subtle evocations of lives shadowed by sadness and disappointment but saved by love—in two novellas by the late Summers (Standing Room, 1984, etc.). ``I walk a tightrope,'' asserts Ben Adams (in ``Helen'') as he begins to type his story at his lakeside cabin. ``I suppose every man walks a tightrope between sanity and depression, or perhaps desperation is a kind of sanity.'' Ben, an admitted Victorian, feels that he's been drowning in the stifling order of his monogrammed life—``A.V.A. the percale sheets say, Our lives monogrammed.'' Married to the exhaustingly capable Anita, whose favorite response is ``beautiful,'' Ben feels alienated as well from his relentlessly cheerful family, scarred by an unhappy childhood, and bored by his work—certainly not the stuff of tragedy, these smaller griefs of everyday life, though no less wearing in their effects. But when Anita arranges for Ben to drive Helen, an old unmarried friend of hers, to Helen's family cottage at Cape May, the brief love affair they share, which Ben is now recording on his old typewriter, enables him finally to examine his life, past and present, and in so doing acquire the recognition that he is indeed perhaps ``blessed.'' ``The Girls'' is a wry account of a middle-aged couple's loving relationship with the husband's mother and aunt. When the mother is injured in an accident, Archie and Anna head for Houston, where both old women live, rent an apartment, spend time with the ailing women, and, in between visits, Archie begins writing a book—but the story he tells provokes Anna to accuse him ``of making things pretty.'' Other memories now intrude, and Archie learns that love for parent, wife, or child is always more complex and delicate than first thought. No rockets, no dazzling epiphanies, but quiet affirmations of love and family ties recalled in well-wrought prose. Welcome grace notes to an accomplished writer's life.
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