RADIANCE by John J. Clayton


Ten Stories
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paper 0-8142-0780-4 A second collection from English professor (U. of Mass.) and critic Clayton, the first winner of the Sandstone Prize for Short Fiction. Clayton’s new volume is, in many ways, a maturing of the concerns of his previous collection. As in Bodies of the Rich (1984), he focuses on the minutiae of daily life as a reflection of the ways in which his intelligent, middle-class protagonists express and experience loss. In —Radiance,— the protagonists are almost all Jews, assimilated to varying degrees but aware of and generally comfortable with their ethnic/religious identity. What they aren—t comfortable with is their lives--marriage as an act of settling for less, marriages that are failing or have long since dissolved, friends and family who die, parents who commit suicide. For several of his low-key heroes--in “Glory,” “Open-Heart Surgery,” and the most fully realized piece here, “The Man Who Could See Radiance”--coping with loss takes the form of a sort of magic realist device in which people see and feel beyond their senses, becoming aware of a larger presence that may be understood as having a religious significance. The use of this device in three stories out of only ten, though, makes for a certain repetitiveness. Two tales, “Muscles” and “Time Exposure,” about episodes in an unhappy marriage that involves the husband’s domineering brother—all as experienced by the couple’s son—have the feeling of sketches for a novel-in-progress; they—re affecting but seem unfinished. Still, Clayton’s best, “Talking to Charlie” and “History Lessons,” have a poignance that comes from an intense sensitivity to the quiet suffering that most often goes unexpressed in the rush of daily life. Uneven but distinctive short fiction from an author with a genuine gift.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8142-0779-0
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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