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 A thematically unified and smartly arranged debut of 14 stories-- one of those rare collections in which the sum is greater than its parts. Borofka's mostly male protagonists approach midlife with a sense of having failed--not just at their professions, or as husbands and fathers, but as decent men. Sex plays no little part in their guilt: The narrator of the fine title piece, a 38-year-old ``man without a conscience of his own,'' realizes that, even though he's survived a plane crash, it does not absolve him of his sins, especially his recent adultery. When a minister's pass at his secretary is rejected, he accepts an unrelated staph infection as divine punishment (``The Whole Lump''). In ``Prologue,'' an unfaithful husband, a failed writer turned insurance salesman, finally confesses to his angry wife. Some of Borofka's stories document scenes from the lives of men struggling to understand the opposite sex: In ``Reflected Music,'' a college student begins to understand ``the complications of intimacy''; in ``The Summers of My Sex,'' the narrator records scenes (unsexy ones) from his erotic development, many from summers spent with his mother's all-female family; and in ``Sisters,'' a narrator reflects on the women in his life: his wife and three daughters, the aunt who raised him, and the reckless mother who abandoned him. Borofka's moral vision includes matters of faith as well: Disillusioned ministers turn up in a number of stories. In ``The Girl on the Highway,'' a crisis of faith results from a young pastor's freak accident; in ``Epilogue,'' an Episcopal priest confesses his infidelity to his pragmatic brother. A typical liberal-secular couple in ``The Children's Crusade'' are bewildered by their daughter's religiosity after she's enrolled in a parochial school--a saintliness that's disrupted by her first period. Borofka steers artfully and intelligently through a variety of collisions of faith and sex, creating a memorable work and an exceptional debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1996
ISBN: 0-87745-557-0
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1996