RADIOS by Jerome Stern


Short Takes on Life and Culture
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 The spoken word translates neatly into the written in this posthumous collection of microessays from National Public Radio commentator Stern (Making Shapely Fiction, not reviewed, etc.). Two or three minutes of radio airtime equals about the same number of written pages, which would normally seem too constricted for a personal essay. It turns out to be just enough, however, for Stern to create his artful prose miniatures: say, to cover a topic like the social ritual of the dessert cart's temptations; to relate an anecdote of brazen cafeteria line-jumping or a reminiscence of school ``hobby day''; or to play out the conceit of an existential airline's announcement: ``Remain comfortably seated, for this trip may be your first or your last, or one of the many trips you will take so . . .'' These ``radios'' (as opposed to ``papers'') are rooted in the everyday, with Stern favoring his memories of family dynamics (``Reading the Refrigerator''), his experiences of teaching and being taught (``Looking for Mr. Keats''), and the close scrutiny of kitchen appliances, such as ice trays and rotisseries. Stern conjures up arrestingly small details, such as the changing fashions of Christmas tree lights or the brand of highlighter (the ``Personalizer'') used to mark the targets for radiation therapy on his body. Stern's ongoing mysterious illness punctuates this miscellany like a mildly cliff-hanging radio serial while he recounts testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Throughout, Stern keeps his ear tuned for good dialogue, even one of his nurses discussing the life expectancy of her kids' pet fish; and his mind is always primed for an artful turn of phrase--undergoing chemotherapy, he describes the radiation machine's sound as ``the sizzling crackle of a patio bug zapper.'' Pleasantly diverting observations on passing life, ideal for short-attention-span meditations. (drawings by author, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04119-0
Page count: 171pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997