DESCENDING FIRE

AND OTHER STORIES

In his first collection of stories, poet Allman (Curve Away from Stillness, not reviewed) drags readers into a New York City and environs peopled with some of the most depressing losers he could dig up. An old gas station attendant with only one leg broods in ``The Tip (1964)'' about his invalid wife who should have died five years ago; in ``Sisters (1971),'' spinster sisters, one with severe mental problems, take the subway to visit their ne'er-do-well brother. Allman begins most stories with extremely lifelike settings. Then, in a botched attempt at experimental narrative, passages jump from present to past, reality to fantasy. ``A Chronic Case (1959),'' for example, charts the life of a man convicted of killing his daughter's lover and his (possibly hallucinatory) involvement with a female prisoner. While these forays into the Great Unknown are obviously intentional, they are too erratic to be of use, serving merely to frustrate readers. Also disconcerting is a monotonous emotional tempo that fails to adapt as the author moves from story to story, character to character. Given this lack of differentiation, the use of dates (mostly in the 1950s) to place the stories seems superficial. Only the three final stories, set in the last decade, take on weight. Allman himself seems more involved in the present, not obscuring his stories with extraneous gimmicks. ``Losers and Gainers (1987)'' is powerful if only because, writing in the first person, Allman offers more insights into his protagonists' motives. The narrator begins by telling readers she could graph her boyfriend's downhill plunge, adding to the metaphor later with ``If he were a stock, he'd be—0.04.'' ``The Substitute (1992),'' in which a Yugoslavian immigrant contrasts the war in her homeland with her granddaughter near death in an incubator, is also particularly vivid. But too many of these stories, like their characters, have long ago stagnated.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1994

ISBN: 0-8112-1274-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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