THE BRIDE OF AMBROSE And Other Stories by Castle Freeman


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Eleven stories about small-town Vermont that, though still evolving in voice, are done expertly and with aplomb. In the quietly conversational tones of, say, Garrison Keillor, ""Seven Prophecies of Egpyt"" deftly interfolds past and present in an anecdotal tale about a now-disappeared back-country road called ""Old Egypt"" (on which a man is said once to have encountered a talking bear). In a perfect imitation of a Nick Adams story, ""The Ride"" reverses the Hemingway theme and portrays a boy who realizes he will choose the confines of marriage in Ambrose rather than a life of adventure elsewhere; and ""Before He Went Out West"" is another anecdotal story of small-town life, this time gothic-tinged (an old man, thought to be dead, suddenly sits up in the back of an ambulance). The literary homage being paid here to earlier writers is acknowledged openly by the author in ""The Exile, the Housekeeper, and Flora, the Beauty of Rome"" (echoing Hemingway's ""The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio""), about an intellectual leftist, now wheelchair-bound, living out his life in ""exile"" up in Vermont; or even in his use of a line from W.B. Yeats as title for another story (""That Is No Country for Old Men""). While literary pedigree-showing can sometimes be limiting and restrictive, though, other elements in these stories pull them into a life of their own. The theme of the oppressiveness of small-town life may be an inherited one, but Freeman's ear is very nearly perfect and his eye sharp: the play of light and shadow in the slowly passing day of the exiled leftist is itself a model of how such things can be done well; and certain moments in the loosely paced title story (an unmarried girl, before leaving town, gives her baby away) will remain memorable--and lovely--well after the book is put down. A high quality of accomplishment in a volume that might be thought of as ""Winesburg, Vermont.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1987
Publisher: Soho--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux