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Eleven stories from Swan--often moving evocations of Southwest landscapes and life transitions, into adulthood and old age especially, though the less successful efforts here either provide no real sense of closure or settle for easy metaphors. One of the better stories has the same title as her novel, Carnival for the Gods (1986), and reads like an outtake: a woman ""full of yearning,"" who ""wanted vaguely to kill somebody,"" regroups after a fight with her callous lover, which follows the breakdown of the carnival during a sandstorm, vividly described. ""July"" is a revealing slice-of-life about a boy who deserts his longtime companion, an old drunken man, for a temporary barroom attraction. ""Getting an Education"" poignantly describes a female student who becomes interested in her history professor, an inept eccentric who is also her neighbor and who comes to a tragic end. And ""The Ink Feather""--effectively mysterious when it's not too oblique--is about a young girl who witnesses knockdown-dragout fights between her mother and her much-older brother before she escapes into her own world. Of the rest, however, ""Land of Promise""--about an older Jewish couple who move to the Southwest, where the wife, bitter and fretful, dies, while the husband discovers the solace of impersonal but immortal nature--is affecting but a little too easy in its resolution. ""Black Hole""--a widowed mother gets pregnant and decides to give birth, despite her daughter's hysteria and her counselor son-in-law's advice--works but could do without the overused title metaphor: the widowed mother's use of the ""black hole"" idea as rationale for her behavior stereotypes her and diminishes an otherwise strong story. Overall, then, a solid but modest offering, often--but not always--more assured than Swan's first story-collection, On the Edge of the Desert (1979).

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1989
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ. Press