A third collection from Johnson (Distant Friends, 1990, etc.) offers 13 tight, knowing, well-told stories. The tales are set...



A third collection from Johnson (Distant Friends, 1990, etc.) offers 13 tight, knowing, well-told stories. The tales are set in the New South, a land of fallen aristocrats and upstart money. It's this incisive presentation of class that lends Johnson's work a certain caustic European tenor, making him sound sometimes like Chekhov, sometimes like Ibsen, often like Cheever or James. In ""A House of Trees,"" a drunken, unemployed father shakes his petulant son out of a tree, crippling him for life; in ""Hemingway's Cats,"" a honeymoon in the Florida Keys is complicated when the bridegroom's father shows up unannounced with some bad news for the bride; and ""In the Deep Woods"" features a financially overwhelmed father groping for recognition in front of an overly sensitive son, this time while hunting. Johnson doesn't limit himself to little boys' yarns, either: ""Scene of the Crime"" finds a daughter avenging herself against her materialistic mother, and ""Little Death"" explores the theme of abortion through the experiences of a homely teenager. The author also showcases an affection for the neo-gothic family so beloved of southern writers: ""Evening at Home"" opens with a minor kitchen accident and closes with a shared, silent sense of grief between father and daughter over how strange Mom has become. Johnson also works some artful variations on the theme of Catholic guilt. ""Sanctity"" dismantles the horrors of a parochial school, while ""Leavetaking,"" with its insightful summary of a crumbling young marriage, reads like early Updike. Then there are the booze stories, such as ""Last Night,"" in which a solitary drinker, who has just gone on the wagon, falls disastrously off when he's forced to spend time with his wine-swilling, duplicitous girlfriend. The Walker Percy-esque title piece is, unfortunately, the weakest, an excuse to muse existential on a chance movie-theater encounter. Exceptionally strong, confident writing from an author who shows his literary roots while gracefully blending ancient anxieties and modern concerns.

Pub Date: July 16, 1996


Page Count: 224

Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996