THE HOUSES OF CHILDREN: Collected Stories by Coleman Dowell


Email this review


Collected here for the first time, the difficult but often striking short stories of a late, unsung novelist/playwright. Bradford Morrow remarks in a Postscript that Coleman Dowell (who died a suicide in 1985) was known as a ""writer's writer,"" and to some extent this is borne out in these dense, lyrical elliptical tales, where Dowell's craftmanship is clearly evident--stories like ""The Great God Almighty Bird"" (a young boy remembers his tough southern grandmother) and ""The Silver Swanne"" (a ghost story traveling through two centuries) can be peeled, layer by careful layer, like artichokes. Too often, however, craft lies between the stories and the reader--in pieces like ""If Beggars Were Horses,"" ""The Moon, The Owl, My Sister,"" and ""Writings on a Cave Wall,"" Dowell is fussy, self-conscious, intrusively autobiographical, even inaccessible: all the hallmarks of an author simply reaching too hard. But when Dowell relaxes, he relaxes into graceful power, and a story like ""Wool Tea""--the best in the volume--emerges: ""The Kid's brother wore heavy silk shirts, striped, cream on cream, shirts so heavy that they dripped from your hands like hot taffy."" ""Wool Tea"" is told so wonderfully from the point of view of an eight-year-old that one feels one is inside not only the head but the heart of the boy, and perhaps equally close to his admired older brother, and his older brother's wild girlfriend. It's with a story like this that a writer's writer becomes a reader's writer as well.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1987
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson