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Likely to please the few and puzzle the many, Schwartz debuts with what may be the most impeccably sustained verbal experiment in fiction since, say, Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String (1996). Here are 21 tiny stories that look at life sideways, in whispers, and, most importantly, by indirection. Often, a reader isn’t even certain who’s being talked about (“He tends to his correspondence. Millicent, for instance, in France. Mother dear”); and just as often, as the prose makes its delicate but indefatigable way forward, this uncertainty clearly doesn’t matter. Schwartz’s pieces can keep a reader mystified in almost every way who, why, what, where but never in the perfect logic of sentences moving forward one after another: what comes next, comes next, most often brilliantly and sometimes breathtakingly. Frequently the author will dip into history (“The Godless florin, which was first issued in 1807 . . .”); he will move from Europe (“King Leopold’s skull, if we are to believe the story, is buried at the foot of the tower”) to America (“Armstrong, Happy Valley, Stink River”) and back again. He will allude, over and over, to people, events, places that haven’t been introduced as though they have been (“the cellar . . . where the children were starved”; “This room had been the child’s, you know”), and his endings will drop unexpectedly, simply, and perfectly into silence (“The window, of course, is dark” ; “A bug crawls across the tabletop”). Schwartz’s vast but miniaturist genius is for seeing the enormous in the tiny (“The newspaper, atop which the fellow sets a tumbler, reports upon a battle”), the significant in the silent (“(The moon to digress is gone)”), the horror-filled in the mute (“the rings,. . . with a silver brooch, had been lost in the mud”), the voicelessly poetic in almost everything. An extraordinary, associative, allusive artist whose stories in scope, skill, innuendo, subtlety are like reading T.S. Eliot in prose.

Pub Date: July 9th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-44332-0
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998