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by Alice Mattison

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-688-15109-4
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

 Fifteen interlinked stories in a salty, tough-minded third collection from Mattison (Great Wits, 1988; The Flight of Andy Burns, 1993). Mattison, also a novelist (Hilda and Pearl, 1995, etc.), has a mordant eye for the details of our wary, confused search for love, and she focuses it here on the uncertain efforts of a group of twenty- and thirty-somethings in New Haven, Connecticut, to connect. There's Tom, who still carries a crush for Ida, a teacher he had in high school. Their sporadic courtship, from tentative dates to the decision on whether or not to marry, threads through the book. Kitty, Ida's roommate, finds herself struggling to jettison her still strong feelings for an old lover, and is not much helped in the process by the lukewarm attentions of a new one. The well-intentioned John, a contractor and Tom's brother-in-law, has his hands full dealing with a turbulent family, including his brothers Eugene (who works with the local down-and-out) and Cameron (an obnoxious, quarrelsome lawyer), and with his aged father. There's also Marta, a dance teacher who finds herself increasingly attracted to Marie, the mother of one of her teenage students, who in turn is dating the nasty Cameron. The large cast weaving through these tales might, in less deft hands, prove unmanageable. But Mattison keeps a keen focus here on the ways in which we court, seduce, rely on, or betray one another, and the stories, many told in the first person, explore our amatory confusions with frankness and vigor. There's not much interior musing here, for Mattison relies on a direct narrative of events and the complex, if ambiguous, messages that even simple interchanges can carry. Nor is there much sense of place. Still, if the stories sometimes seem exceedingly spare and even grim, they are nonetheless, at their best (as in ``The Dance Teacher,'' ``Apples,'' and ``Sebastian Squirrel''), both moving and entirely convincing.