A RELATIVE STRANGER: Stories by Charles Baxter
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This third collection of stories by the author of the luminous novel First Light (1987) proves once again that Baxter likes to tackle the big questions--and that he does so with great literary skill, intellectual brio, and a sense of humor that was noticeably absent in the novel. For all their thematic unity, these 13 pieces about the meaning of family gain from the tensions on which they dwell: between innocence and experience, chaos and order, despair and hope, the miraculous and the ordinary. Baxter cares as much about the nature of sibling love as he does about the family of man, with the occasional liberal fuzziness that the latter engenders. Quite a few of the men here are bleeding hearts, much more unworldly than their women, and often they end up mugged by reality. The minister of ""Prowlers,"" pious and dutiful, cannot understand his melancholic wife and the secrets she harbors; the ""professional friend"" of ""West-land,"" full of ""generic rage,"" fires a gun at a nuclear reactor; and the kindhearted baker of ""Shelter,"" a friend to the homeless, frightens his family with his good intentions. The most naive is the visiting Swede in ""The Disappeared,"" who experiences both the bliss and menace of American disorder on his trip to Detroit. At the heart of this splendid collection is the title story of two biological brother; meeting for the first time, a masterly piece that casts the nature-nurture debate in stark relief. The difficulties of familial love animate ""Fenstad's Mother"" and ""Scheherazade,"" while a number of other stories explore the tension between surprise and predictability in romantic love. And if Baxter's well-informed fictional profile of Ezra Pound in old age (""The Old Fascist in Retirement"") seems completely out of place here, the final story about an eastern Jew in remote Michigan--the only male in the collection with a sense of irony--provides a necessary coda to Baxter's quintessentially midwestern tales. Baxter finds substance in unlikely places, and transcendence in all the right ones: he's a virtuoso of the heart's beat and the mind's pulse.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1990
ISBN: 0393322203
Publisher: Norton