TENTACLES OF UNREASON by Joan Givner

TENTACLES OF UNREASON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As if chronicling their own author's search for her fictional voice, these ten stories range from the disappointingly unsuccessful to the ramblingly anecdotal to--in two of the ten--the grace and depth of fully realized short fiction. ""First Love,"" the story of an academic fling at love, not only falls victim to clich‚ (""'Why am I so changed?' she asked herself"") but, trying for satire, ends up in a muddle of quick-reversal farce (""'Genevieve,' she gasped. 'You!'""), and ""A Climate of Extremes""--in which a woman bums her house down, with herself in it--depends similarly on a plot turn to give depth, unsuccessfully, to its subject. Two historical narratives, one about Lot's wife (""The Testament of Leyla"") and the other about Helen of Troy (""Laocoon, My Father""), suggest Givner's love of the literary past but seem, as fiction, to be little more than recital pieces, a playing of runs and scales that have elsewhere been played with greater passion and richer texture. Turning to village life in England in the 1940's and 1950's, she brings her material more naturally to life, but the pace remains so leisurely and anecdotal that the narratives come close to the feel of retrospective essays. When Givner's talents come together, however--the satiric observer's detachment and the anecdotalist's felt love for nuance, memory, and detail--the result can be very fine. ""A Spectator Sport"" shambles its way into its material, but the moment is well worth the journey when a lamented son's grave is opened in France, years after the end of WW II (""But when they dug in the ground, there was nothing there. No coffin, no bones, nothing at all. When Alfred had been blown up, there had been nothing left to bury""); and ""The Celebrant,"" about a young girl's admiring love for her cousin Angela, is graceful, poised, and elegant--a perfected and moving story about love, time, and memory. A volume that is quite incompletely formed, but with moments that are both striking and durable.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1985
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press