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This first collection of nine stories, most of which have been published in small magazines, displays a beginner's willingness to experiment in voice and style--and the results are certainly uneven. Havazelet's most convincing stories concern young people in New York and Boston, and the fragility of their relations with family, friends, and lovers. But even these pieces range from the straight-forward and memoiristic to the wildly hip and absurdist. In the best, ""Solace,"" a widower forces his young son to accompany him, weekly to the hospital where his wife died, and where he tries to bring comfort to other terminal patients. Because the confused youngster must face the horror unaided (his father begins drinking on the ride there), he exacts a neat revenge. Less sure of its voice, ""What Everyone Wants,"" an equally somber tale, records a young woman's return home after her repressed mother attempts suicide for the third time--these rituals are seen as an appropriate response to her oppressively conventional life at home. Havazelet tries on other voices that ring false as well: ""Resident"" is a brief monologue of a senile old man in a nursing home; and ""Natalie Wood's Amazing Eyes"" narrates a young wife's retreat into the darkness of movie theaters, where her overworked husband no longer accompanies her. Monologues by a speed-freak and a punk-rocker suffer for other reasons. The first--a jagged and frenetic apology for his drifting--is just too cool in its hipster's insouciance; and the latter--a long and rambling account of ""a sweet, lovely, fucked-up boy""--is a catalogue of a trendy affects. The witless narrator, a part-time ER worker, records all kinds of pop-culture nonsense: T-shirt sayings, bumper-stickers, junk mail, TV dialogue. In this, as in many of Havazelet's clumsier stories, he overreaches for the absurd, finding the bizarre everywhere as a result of drugs, senility, madness, and modern life. His callous accounts of the old and uneducated making fools of themselves seem a further reflection of his callow vision. Few of these scattered pieces deserve a life outside the writing workshops where they were no doubt conceived.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1988
Publisher: Scribners