FLIGHTS IN THE HEAVENLIES: Stories by Ernest J. Finney


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Six stories with vivid West Coast settings and characters who, when appropriate, beguile and alarm even if they cumulatively lack an energizing edginess. Finney (Words of My Roaring, 1993, etc.) writes about a more down-home, less glitzy, often Catholic California, one troubled by universal rather than conventional local concerns. It is sometimes beautiful but, more often, merely hot and dusty--a backstage California, as it were--where the landscape is as homely as its inhabitants. In the title piece, Margaret, whose psychic gifts (symbolized by the sounds of doves) enable her to find lost objects and people, flees to Canada when she thinks people are trying to exploit her gift. More to the point, her discovery of a woman drowned in a pond makes her ask ""what good is there left to find anyhow?"" The two most notable tales--""Stepsister"" and ""Talus,"" which first appeared in Sewanee Review and Kenyon Review, respectively--share the common theme of troubled religious vocation. In the first, Sister Marynora stays in the Church, but, as diocese chancellor, increasingly prefers administration to pastoral duties. When she's appointed executrix of a cousin's will, she becomes temporary administrator of a San Francisco spice factory and reveals a chilling disregard for her employees. In ""Talus,"" Butch leaves the priesthood after two decades, heads for the hills, and, once there, tending sheep and meeting the remarkable Rhonda, finds a different but no less profound vocation. Other stories detail how a violin prodigy repays the community that nurtured him (""Agents of Grace""); how the discovery of $3 million affects a young girl's relationship with her employers (""The Money Tree""); and how a restaurant owner comes to accept the implacable workings of cause and effect (""Double Smart""). Stories finely crafted and paced that often falter at the finish line.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois