A frustratingly uneven first collection, by the young author of the novels Family Night (1992) and Open Water (1995)....



A frustratingly uneven first collection, by the young author of the novels Family Night (1992) and Open Water (1995). Flook's fiction tends to feature embattled families and almost operatically strained relationships, and that preference for excess is numbingly manifested in these eight longish stories. The book's title, which implies a protestation of innocence, in fact announces her emphases on women who love unwisely and not very well (and also, to be sure, on men who are themselves, in crucial and catastrophic ways, ""wrong"" for their women). But her weaker stories stretch beyond Flook's range: ""Exchange Street,"" for example, is a predictable borderline-sentimental tale of a transvestite and ""her"" lover stubbornly seeking gainful employment and self-respect; and ""Prince of Motown"" is more sociology than fiction, involving a drug-addicted teenage father mourning the death of singer Marvin Gaye, his white young wife, and their ""mixed"" baby, and the threats of further abuse and disillusionment that follow her even as she finds ""shelter."" Flook's vivid style is both distinguished and marred by in-your-face imagery, which is sometimes powerfully compact (""an ambulance strobed over the granite of an opposite building""), sometimes wildly over the top (""the young mother cradled her baby with the dumb ambivalence of a frozen peach tree holding a Sterno pot in its iced branches""). The better stories here, which hold both the high-powered prose and the melodramatic details essentially in check, include a sardonic medical student's raffish account of his inconstant love affair with a self-absorbed writer (""Lane""), and ""The Golden Therapist,"" an ingeniously developed portrayal of a secretive bank employee unhappy in marriage and fatherhood, seeking the consolations of adultery and sexual fantasy: It's a terrific vision of accumulating quotidian despair, powered by fresh and startling images and metaphors. Deeply flawed--and almost as deeply interesting--work from an ambitious writer who's obviously still finding her material and her voice, and who may yet produce much better fiction.

Pub Date: March 11, 1996


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996