KISS IN THE HOTEL JOSEPH CONRAD And Other Stories by Howard Norman


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From Norman, author of the acclaimed novel The Northern Lights (1987), here are seven stories invariably bright in detail but otherwise often commonplace or drifting--with the exception of one, which sends out a quiet sunburst of loveliness. The title story is a rambling and anticlimactic tale of an inexplicable ne'er-do-well who for 20 years nurses his love for a girl he first sees in a kissing booth--its drawn-out comic details failing to bring it to psychological life. ""Jenny Aloo,"" about an Eskimo woman who dies believing that her missing son is captured inside a jukebox, is a familiar story of country folk but in an exotic setting (on the edge of Hudson Bay); and ""Laughing and Crying"" captures small-town Indiana in the 1950's but maunders weakly as the story of a boy with divorced parents. Again and again, Norman captures the detail and atmosphere of a place, yet the stories themselves wither instead of grow. ""Catching Heat"" is expert on the aura of horse racing, but the story becomes merely miniature (man is jilted by girl); ""Whatever Lola Wants"" deftly evokes Hollywood of the 1940's in the loose-jointed story of an actress and a set-designer who end up running a motel in snowbound New England; and ""Milk Train"" has the sharp-eyed and quaint period flavor (Vermont, 1912) of a technicolor movie, but the story (a man's thoughts after a local train wreck) seems mainly an excuse for the details. The great exception here is ""Old Swimmers,"" quietly ambitious and resonant both in symbol and psychology: a young boy goes to Halifax to visit an eccentric aunt whom his family has ostracized (they've considered her increasingly odd since she survived a ferry sinking in 1942), and what he finds shimmers with magic and sorrow and delight. Expertly surfaced pieces looking for focus and depth, with one, though, that's a wonderfully accomplished rarity.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1989
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster