BELIEVERS by Charles Baxter


A Novella and Stories
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 No one will ever accuse Baxter of literary frivolity--and that's the problem. In these eight stories, even the most casual events come bathed in sociopolitical gloss, often to the detriment of Baxter's modest narrative instincts. ``Believers,'' the novella that takes up a large part of this volume, strives for world-historical significance to explain one man's loss of faith: the narrator's father, a former Catholic priest who was seduced from his bumpkin modesty in the Midwest by a couple of northeastern smarties, a Protestant husband and wife who aspired to be America's answer to the Cliveden set--witty and urbane fascists, with oodles of dough and a fancy estate in Michigan. The narrator's frustration is simple: He was conceived as a direct result of apostasy and abandoned celibacy. Such clear and easy ironies abound in Baxter's remaining stories as well. In ``The Next Building I Plan to Bomb,'' a seemingly bland (and heterosexual) midwestern banker finds a threatening message on a piece of paper and decides to act out his own need to be dangerous by engaging in unsafe sex with a young man. Baxter's well-written narratives are distinguished by such surprises--the odd revelation in an apparently ordinary life, like the neighbor who may or may not be a child molester/killer (``Time Exposure''); the happily-in- love young slacker who isn't sure whether her boyfriend is a woman beater or not (``Kiss Away''); and the married father who acts like a fool over his first wife, whom he hasn't seen since she left him over a decade ago (``Flood Show''). Linked by their underlying concern with the forms of passion, these stories are best exemplified by ``The Cures For Love,'' a relatively modest tale of a classics teacher who finds solace in Ovid. Baxter's banal commentary about America as mouthed by his characters is slightly more endurable than those same characters' tendency to write things like ``sadness'' on grocery lists. A fine writer is here tried (tired?) and true. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44267-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997


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