HARD TO BE GOOD by Bill Barich

HARD TO BE GOOD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Better known for his nonfiction (Laughing in the Hills, 1980; Travelling Light, 1983), Barich here collects seven short stories, six of which first appeared in The New Yorker. All of them display a freshness of purpose and fullness of design too rare in those glossy pages. Barich intends no irony by his title: his protagonists struggle against chaos, alienation, and plain old circumstance. However lofty their ambitions, they often find spiritual and aesthetic redemption in the time-honored values of simple trust and honesty. The title story concerns a stoned-out 16-year-old from southern California who learns the meaning of responsibility while spending the summer with his ex-hippie mother and her third husband, a truly decent man. Decency inspires another middle-aged former hippie and aspiring writer to confront ""the many errors that now seemed to compose the fabric of his life,"" foremost among them his inability to get along with his holy-rolling mother (""Where the Mountains Are""). In ""The End of the World,"" an unemployed, elderly black man, familiar with his own minor apocalypses, matches visions with two young and innocent missionaries working San Francisco's Tenderloin. Also out West, a former ""semi-star"" (and once purple-haired) keyboard player tries ""putting things right in a context of chaos""; even when he fails, after an ill-fated romance, he remains committed to trying again (""Too Much Electricity""). Three stories set in Italy stay well within Barich's thematic boundaries: In ""October,"" a congenial German tourist tries hard to be good on his annual visit to Florence, though he inevitably ends each trip with a drunken blow-out; ""Caravaggio"" gently deflates the naive aspirations of a young American artist gripped by ""the seedy romance of Europe""; and in the final tale, ""Giorgio's Mother,"" an American art historian, divorced and at a dead end in his research, relearns the importance of trust as he teaches it to a young boy he has saved from drowning. Barich's exact prose wonderfully reveals the messy and mundane truths we live by.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1987
ISBN: 0374526273
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux