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 Sixteen new stories, plus four reprinted from Big Chocolate Cookies (1988) and Earthly Justice (1990), from octogenarian Goldman: a refreshing reminder that, in writing, a late start takes nothing away from a good eye and strong voice. The landscape portrayed in these pieces stands immediately apart in its homeliness and lack of ``literary'' atmosphere: The characters who inhabit it are for the most part practical types, bankers and waiters and haberdashers prone neither to loud displays of emotion nor extended interior monologues. We are introduced (in ``The Byerson Test'') to Chester Byerson, a genial if dull WASP executive whose interior satisfaction is challenged when a friend asks him to investigate the history of a Holocaust monument he'd found in Paris. Meanwhile, the simple tale of the courtship, marriage, and childbearing of a Cape Cod fisherman's wife forms the whole of the narrative of ``The Live Harp,'' and excerpts from a novel-in-progress (The Patriot) provide the same domestic drama of a Pittsburgh tailor over a much longer lifespan and in far greater detail. The real strength of the collection is that it manages to compel attention through a realistic portrayal of utterly unexceptional characters in perfectly ordinary situations. Even in a work like ``Meeting the Queen''the unassuming down-home girl who marries into money turns out to have been a childhood playmate of Elizabeth IIthe narrative shifts and the denouement serve only to deepen rather than alter the outlines that are given shape at the start. Far from creating a monotony, the simplicity of Goldman's portrayals sets up a narrative drama that is rare in much contemporary fiction, precisely because his characters, in their lack of ostentation, draw attention the more naturally to their rich histories and surroundings. Generous, amiable, and touching: a delight.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1995
ISBN: 1-880284-16-2
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1995