FAMILY TERRORISTS: A Novella & Seven Stories by Antonya Nelson

FAMILY TERRORISTS: A Novella & Seven Stories

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Seven stories (two of them award-winners, ""Naked Ladies"" in Best American, ""Dirty Words"" in O. Henry) and a novella, done up in a kind of flip realism that subjects relationships to breezy examination. Nelson (In the Land of Men, 1992) writes in a popular ""conversational"" style, immediately establishing a friendly tone (""Though his head was larger than his body, his brain seemed unquestionably smaller"" -- referring to a Scottie dog) as if she were introducing herself to a new neighbor or co-worker. A natural storyteller, she's out to amuse and instruct, but she's at her best when inserting a catch in the narrative voice at moments of introspection nobody saw coming, moments heightened by deft or penetrating description: a father's nearly useless legs being lifted and tucked into a car by a daughter; the faces of people in an ice-cream store during a tornado (""Icy green and ghostly, when the lightning cracked,"" then ""gone, like the switched-off image of a television""). The charm lies in Nelson's ability to describe people and events in a few words, family history in a paragraph, and to offer observations that readers can readily identify with: ""When she was high ordinarily unfunny things made her giggle."" This is good-natured and hard to resist, but it also relies on ""quirkiness"" as a way of making inexplicable people seem understandable. The tendency is toward glib reductions of mysteries and suggestions of depth rather than depth itself. The New Yorker eats this stuff up; readers will find Nelson either enchanting or boring.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1994
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin