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There's an impressively wide range of subject and approach in this third story collection from novelist lack Matthews (The Charisma Campaigns, Beyond the Bridge). ""Elma"" is compactly ironic--as a boy and girl, match-made since childhood by her mother, hate each other naturally enough until later, with independence, they fall in love. ""The Girl in the Window""--looking at, wondering on, an aged photo--is meditative. Simple and courageous people (""Irma, The Good Sport"") come as naturally to Matthews as stiff college professors (""The Project""). But a certain elegiac piety mars the weaker stories here--and, conversely, a freewheeling appreciation of life's unaccountability shines up those that are best. In ""The Terrible Mrs. Bird,"" a small boy, terrified by his sister, bites another woman on the breast; and when she later dies of cancer, he struggles with the unclear taboos that now becloud his childish, instinctive act. In ""First the Legs and Then the Heart,"" a grown son is nonplussed to find his senile father occupying a phone booth on a street corner--until the son comes to see a certain charm or logic in his father's behavior. And four stories here are absolutely superb: ""The Pilgrimage"" (an old sick man goes to drink from a spring drunk from in childhood); ""No More Babies""; and perhaps best of all, two remarkably supple stories about widowerhood--tales of fresh aloneness that are as curvingly told as they are slightly off-angled. On balance, then, more good (some very good) than not: a worthy collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1981
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press