MIDAIR by Frank Conroy
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Eight stories by the author of the near-classic Stop-time (1967) that begin dazzlingly but decline quickly into amiable (for the most part) but well-worn convention. The title story narrates with daring economy and insightful precision the lifelong effects on a son of the trauma he felt when his psychotic father once threatened to drop him from a fifth-floor window--into midair. Covering much of a lifetime--marriage, children, divorce, start of middle age--this fine story prepares the way for those that follow--but most of them are anti-climactic. A mother' s death by cancer creates a deep response in her grieving son (""Celestial Events""), but the chords plucked in the story are standard ones, and inherited voices begin to intrude (the rhythms of Jerzy Kosinski, for example, in a squash game played as if to the death, as well as in the nostalgia-caused murder-suicide on the FDR Drive in ""Car Games""). Three satires in a row remain derivative, shopworn, and slight: of artistic creativity and psychoanalysis (""The Mysterious Case of R""); of the soul-emptiness of superstar artists and fashion models (""Roses""); of the Kafkaesque impersonality in urban planning (""Transit""). Only in the last two stories does Conroy return from these lit-class exercises, but ""Gossip"" (a spiteful rumor comes back to haunt a writing teacher) is shamblingly loose-jointed and anecdotal, and ""The Sense of the Meeting,"" if more compactly rendered and often touching in its details, is destined to remain the familiar old sigh of devoted father, son becoming young man, and a reflective pondering of strategy for the game of life (in this case the metaphor is college basketball). Stories, then, that will be of interest to literary readers because of the long, long wait since the autobiographical Stop-time; that end up (because they are, largely, so unpretentious) making you rather like the author; but that add little, except for ""Midair,"" to the shelves of the really notable.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1985
Publisher: Dutton