THE EXPENDABLES by Antonya Nelson


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The latest Flannery O'Connor Award winner collects 12 competent stories, many of which have appeared in glossy (Esquire and Playgirl) or small (North American Review and Quarterly West) magazines. All of them argue against the narrator of the title piece who believes that some lives just don't matter. Even the teen-age teller of ""The Expendables,"" drunk with the dramatic events on the day of his sister's wedding, comes to recognize the miraculous in the quotidian. A pair of related narratives testifies more directly to the importance of a seemingly insignificant life. The death of a wild college girl in a motorcycle accident brings her parents together in grief when they visit the site months later (""Mud Season""), and continues to weigh heavily years later when they visit their older daughter about to give birth (""Looking for Tower Hall""). Many of these workmanlike tales plead: just how much bad luck can befall one person? So asks the teen-age narrator of ""Cold Places"" as she witnesses the melodrama of her parents' confrontation with her father's drunken mistress. The recovering alcoholic in ""Helen in Hollywood"" gets through the night by acting out an AA meeting in her living room. The matron of honor in ""Substitute,"" married to a volatile drug-dealer, finds it difficult to support her best friend's own impending nuptials. No matter how bad things get here, though, Nelson's protagonists are survivors: The blind husband of ""Listener"" proves to be more resilient than his working wife; the unmarried 16-year-old mother of ""Maggie's Baby"" exercises her power to give life. Marriage in these often moving stories reminds us of the fragility of relationships. The old and infirm husband in ""You Boys Be Good"" goes through hell every Friday night when his wife goes visiting; the young husband in ""Dog Problems"" is jealous of his wife's dog, whose relation with her predates his own; and a married new mother in ""Affair Lite"" decides to break off her secret friendship with a single father before it blossoms into a sexual affair. The powerful ""Slickrock to Bedrock"" demonstrates how sex queers quite satisfactory and long-enduring companionship among three friends who meet for an annual rafting trip. Rather ordinary stories about decidedly ordinary lives.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0684846853
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia Press