SPARKMAN IN THE SKY by Brian Griffin


and Other Stories
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 An undistinguished debut collection that somehow lacks the resonance needed to transform the ordinary into the enchanting. Granted, Griffin does manage to stay far from the weary tale of the eccentric southerner. Though all the pieces are set in Tennessee, it's atmosphere that the region supplies, not oddities. Some of the more memorable tales focus on growing up during the Vietnam War, such as ``Home for the Weekend,'' in which a young boy watches as disaster grows from a small event: His college brother brings home a fellow student, from Nigeria, taking him to church on Sunday and causing a lethal upheaval in the still segregated community. While speculating on what it would be like to take a gunboat up the Mekong River, the narrator finds that he's being called on to confront a more subtle war at home. The longest and most effective story, ``The Courtship of Dixie Pepper,'' tracks the bad to worse luck of Hal, an out-of-work, kicked-out-of-house fellow whose good intentions usually go awry. Refused the hand of the stunning Dixie Pepper by her old-fashioned father, the still- shiftless Hal finds himself 20 years later in the midst of sexy, though unfounded, rumors involving himself and the now wealthy and still beautiful Dixie. A lively tale, balancing a number of droll subplots, it succeeds in charming the reader with well-drawn detail and humor. ``Big Ash,'' which like all the stories touches on some aspect of the effects of Vietnam, tells the sad tale of Karlen, who is literally falling apart bit by bit, very likely because of his exposure to Agent Orange. The prodigious sufferer remains movingly quixotic right to the end. There's ambition here, and a lively imagination, but many of the stories remain unsurprising. A competent first collection, but not a grand entrance.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1997
ISBN: 1-889330-05-1
Page count: 184pp
Publisher: Sarabande
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1997