Novelist Hansen (Desperadoes, 1979: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 1983) here collects 11...

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Novelist Hansen (Desperadoes, 1979: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 1983) here collects 11 stories, all but one previously published, for a volume part Hemingway, and part Gárcia Márquez--Hansen's something of an all-American magic realist in other words, a fabulist in the native grain. Fable transforms a slice of Americana (circa 1920) in ""Playland,"" a detailed description of a lavish amusement park, a homegrown Eden where the harsher realities seldom intrude. ""The Boogeyman,"" an equally enigmatic, feverish tale of myth and metamorphosis in the Vietnamese jungle, also baffles with its deliberate weirdness. On surer ground, Hansen limns a different world of thieves and hustlers: in the straightforward ""His Dog,"" a petty thief turned killer can't abide his dog's predatory nature; and in ""The Killers,"" a clear homage to Papa, we witness the decline of honor and technique in the business of murder. More conventional business is the subject of ""Can I Just Sit Here for a While?""--a tale made up of the salesman's clichÉ-ridden patter. ""The Sun So Hot I Froze to Death"" also concerns a businessman, but this absurdist narrative collapses from its many conceits. The remaining pieces all unfold in the state of the title, and two in particular (""Wickedness"" and ""Nebraska"") take the state as their subject: the first invokes the blizzard of 1888 with a chronicle of anecdotal evidence, a litany of bone-chilling detail; the latter meditates on the humbler parts of the state, where freight trains and highways sigh ""Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska."" Hansen appropriates both pop genre and voice in ""True Romance,"" a young farm-woman's tale of troubled love; in ""Red-Letter Days,"" the diary entries of a semiretired golf bum; and in the lengthy ""Sleepless,"" a horrific account of a black psychic who moves into a house with a haunting past. At his best, Hansen recalls the plaintive Springsteen (of the album with the same state as its title), and the moody Terrence Malick: poets of the badlands all.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1988

ISBN: 0871133490

Page Count: -

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988