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THERE'S SOMETHING I WANT YOU TO DO by Charles Baxter Kirkus Star



by Charles Baxter

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-101-87001-3
Publisher: Pantheon

The author’s sixth collection of short fiction features stories linked by place, character, verbal echo, and a master’s hand for foibles and fellowship.

The place is mostly Minneapolis, the repeated phrase is that of the title, with its modest appeal and its larger reminder that no one gets through life without hearing a call or cry for help. A young pediatrician bravely breaks up a mugging. A man who has been mugged (and whose assailant in another story will need help with his drug addiction) stops a woman from leaping off a bridge. A man gives shelter to his ex-wife after she turns into a bag lady. (The book’s last use of the title comes somewhat too pointedly from a Schindler Jew.) Several characters have encounters that suggest nonhuman help is available (a spiritual element also lies in the ten stories named after five virtues and five vices). The pediatrician’s wife on their Prague honeymoon hears a crone’s prophecy of her pregnancy. The doctor, the book’s most frequently recurring figure, spends most of one story talking to the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock on a park bench and then asks his wife to pray for him. Bare storylines can’t convey the quickly captivating simple narratives around them or the revealing moments to which Baxter (Gryphon, 2011, etc.) brings the reader, like the doctor’s exhilaration with the physical violence of beating the muggers. Similarly, Baxter, a published poet, at times pushes his fluid, controlled prose to headier altitudes, as in “high wispy cirrus clouds threading the sky like promissory notes.”

Nearly as organic as a novel, this is more intriguing, more fun in disclosing its connective tissues through tales that stand well on their own.