Eleven short stories as refreshing as brook water from veteran Stern (Twice Told Tales, 1990, etc.).
The tales here each have a quicksilver shine that pulls at the heart with those sweeping undercurrents readers once sensed in Chekhov and early Hemingway. Their only shortcoming is a slightly excessive facility: the action tends to glide by, and few events deeply etch themselves in the reader’s mind. But the stories read wonderfully, with music flowing everywhere: doomy Shostakovich quartets, Mozart duo piano pieces, Schubert at his most heartbreaking. In “Apraxia,” a writer whose book on Shostakovich has just been trashed by the critics, puts away his CD of the terror-stricken Tenth Quartet and strives to sneak step-by-step to bed in his wife’s curtained, pitch-black bedroom: still consumed by the quartet, he is suspended, Stern writes, in “the language of the grave.” Hustled over to a fancy restaurant for “Lunch with Gottlieb,” a naïve young college grad, just arrived in Manhattan circa 1975 to join Moss Gottlieb’s advertising firm, has to sit through an embarrassing sales pitch to a client and then haul his drunken new boss back to the office. In “Chaos,” lovers who have lived together for two years break up for the sixth time. An American couple take “The #63 Bus from the Gare de Lyon” to visit famous graves in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery; when they find a monument with the husband’s name on it, they decide in dismay to buy plots back home. In “Comfort,” a pair of middle-aged recovering drunks who have never married exist in turmoil that almost tears their limbs off. The title story shows young performers pitting music against Wittgenstein’s nothingness.
Figures lifted from your own past and held up to the eye, molten with light.