HOW I LEARNED by Gloria Frym


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 Poet Frym's fiction debut looks at marginalized lives with a vision often straight-on enough to ring true, but rarely deep enough to matter. Frym writes about San Francisco, focusing on transitional neighborhoods and showing an eye for beggars in the streets. She's taught poetry writing to jail inmates, and several of the stories here deal with people behind, or just released from behind, bars. She sets the scene and drops the reader into the midst of voices, struttings, and schemes, successfully evoking confusion but not saying much that the world doesn't already know. Throughout the collection, even though characters speak for themselves and report their inner thoughts, the pieces remain descriptive rather than insightful. Some character sketches are effective--Sabrima, the hapless, hopeful little girl of ``Sabrima Lies,'' does indeed come to life--but in general the observations and language are too ordinary to compensate for the lack of narrative event. Other stories are told at a distance with the somewhat abstract characters unnamed. This works well in ``Family Christmas'' (a series of paragraphs labeled THE SISTER AND BROTHER; THE MOTHER AND CHILD, etc., which sharply delineate different family relationships); ``Death of a Father''; and often effectively in ``TV Guide,'' which begins with a strictly conventional description of a shrink/patient relationship, then takes an interesting turn. In ``War of Hearts,'' the Gulf War makes a woman feel that things cannot go on as before, and so she shakes up her marriage; here, unfortunately, Frym's rallying cry for change seems merely to trivialize the real-life bombings. A well-intentioned miss.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 1-56689-003-9
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1992