The ten stories in Vaughn's debut collection divide neatly into two groups: five interconnected family portraits told by a...

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The ten stories in Vaughn's debut collection divide neatly into two groups: five interconnected family portraits told by a grown-up military brat named Gemma, and five stylized tales of young, mostly unhappy, women about the same age as Gemma. The latter group of stories displays all the worked-over elegance of The New Yorker, where some of them appeared. They're glib and lean, and sharply focused on single, not very complex images. Vaughn's rather pathetic narrators suffer through their unhappy relationships: in the title piece, an unemployed Ph.D. follows her adulterous husband cross-country in search of work; in ""Other Women,"" a thirtysomething sinle woman catches crabs from her faithless lover; in ""The Architect of California,"" a woman unable to bear children is infuriated by her husband's health regimen and her best friend's fecundity. The 29-year-old mother of two in ""Snow Angel"" temporarily retreats from her adult life by hiding in the closet, and by playing in the snow. A cutesy-clever little piece, ""We're on TV in the Universe,"" muses on our (in?)significance in the cosmos. Meanwhile, the Gemma stories are another matter altogether--much messier in design and diffuse in meaning, they glimpse the deeper truths of familial life, crisscrossing time and landscape in pursuit of some distinctly American memories. ""Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog"" chronicles the rise and fall of Gemma's brooding father--his rigor and discipline as a military officer and his post-military life in Ohio as a hardware-store owner given to drink. ""Kid MacArthur"" focuses on Gemma's younger brother, who rejects his father's example after serving himself in the Vietnam War, which Gemma has secretly begun to protest. ""Dog Heaven,"" a memoir of the family pet--a real dog's dog--records the difficulties of army/town relations in Upstate New York. Gemma returns home to the Midwest in ""My Mother Breathing Lightly"" to see her now-widowed mother through cancer. And her alcoholic uncle makes a brief appearance in ""The Battle of Fallen Timbers,"" only to die in a car wreck, drawing the itinerant family back to Ohio for the funeral. A modest achievement ill-served by the publisher's hype.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 1989

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1989