RIVER TEETH by David James Duncan


Stories and Writings
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 Well-crafted vignettes and slightly overblown stories combine in a first collection from the much-praised author of The River Why (1982) and The Brothers K (1992). Duncan comes out swinging in the early pages, writing eloquently of his notion of certain compressed, boiled-down memories he calls ``river teeth,'' like the gnarled tree-knots in the Northwest waters of his home state. In ``Rose Vegetables'' he delivers on his premise, describing a Oregon parade with deadpan precision: ``White-gloved, admiration-stoned princesses reached toward us through the air, slowly unscrewing invisible jar lids.'' When sudden tragedy strikes, the mood is captured with the same restraint: ``...the right front wheel of the Meadowland Dairy wagon rolled, with majestic slowness, not so much over as through the old man's head.'' Other ``teeth'' that bite include ``Giving Normal the Finger,'' an account of a foster-brother whose only limb is a single digit; ``A Streetlamp in the Netherlands,'' in which a glance at a beautiful young woman encompasses a sickening traffic accident; and ``Another Brutal Indian Attack,'' about Duncan's job berry-picking with the local Native Americans. But such restraint and proportion are missing from most of the fiction here: ``The Garbage Man's Daughter'' is sentimental and overstuffed with fancy writing Ö la Tom Robbins; ``The King of Epoxy,'' a belabored satire of archaeology, feels like the results of a late-night caffeinated ramble on a word-processor; and ``Molting'' is an attempt at epiphany (divorcing father + young daughter + beautiful moment in nature = wisdom). Of these latter pieces, only in ``Not Rocking the Boats'' does the extravagant writing pay off in laughter, and only in ``The Mickey Mantle Koan'' does the emotion completely transcend sentimentality. Our disappointment is sharpened by Duncan promising more than he delivers, but there's just enough here to keep a sympathetic reader plowing on. A clever packaging of early material, with some ``teeth'' in it, that holds out hope for future work.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-47727-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995


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