A frustratingly uneven second collection (which nevertheless won this year's Richard Sullivan Prize for Short Fiction) by...

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IN THE HOUSE OF BLUE LIGHTS

A frustratingly uneven second collection (which nevertheless won this year's Richard Sullivan Prize for Short Fiction) by the author of The Invention of Flight (1984). Hospitals and sickrooms are recurring settings in these 14 varied though uniformly moody stories, which often focus on mother-daughter tensions, unraveling marriages or affairs, and the traumatizing losses of loved ones. Three especially fine pieces stand out: ""Playhouse,"" though it's only a vignette, neatly illustrates the discomfiting resilience with which children separate themselves from their parents. In ""Witch,"" a tired waitress's bonding with her four children is strengthened by the story, which she hears secondhand, of a lonely customer's ""spirit"" pregnancy. And in ""Night Train,"" an old woman views a notorious case of abduction and rape through the distorting prism of her own erotic memories. The other stories, which are much inferior, offer far too many insufficiently differentiated portraits of ambivalent, betrayed, or destroyed relationships. A young woman's tale (""Blue"") of her grandfather's frustrated love for his (perhaps psychotic) second wife is left unresolved. So are ""Eclipse,"" which charts the relations among an unfaithful husband, his passive wife, and his hospitalized lover; ""Your Own Private Voice,"" about a mother lost to narcolepsy; and ""Quinella,"" which portrays a troubled couple unable to rejuvenate their intimacy by a trip to a racetrack. Too many of Neville's weaker stories blend together unaccountably as one reads them. Altogether, they seem like fragments of an unwritten (and perhaps unwrite-able) novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0268011842

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Notre Dame

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998