COMEDIANS by John L'Heureux


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The latest story collection from the author of A Woman Run Mad (1988) and Desire (1981) suffers from the same unevenness of his previous work. At his epiphanic best, L'Heureux chronicles the modern search for God amidst the apparent randomness of everyday life with all the grace and style of the great writers of religious fiction. At his least inspired, he turns to pastiche--or worse, stories that seem mere exercise. The bulk of this volume is taken up by a novella and two stories, with nine shorter pieces, artificially grouped together as ""Brief Lives,"" filling it out. Of the longer work, ""Maria Luz Buenvida"" rings most false, an imitation of Latin American magical realism in which a young woman in the moments before death--her throat slashed by right-wing soldiers--promises to endure in spirit. ""The Terrible Mirror,"" a compelling, intellectually challenging novella, also ends with its protagonist's thoughts during his final minutes. A once-successful sculptor, this mean-spirited academic discovers after years of literal blindness and figural vision the modest way in which the Divine meddles in our lives. The notion of God as a ""blindingly unfair"" and supreme ironist informs some of the finer short tales as well: the posthumous musings of a dead priest about two elderly friends ""besieged by grace"" (""Themselves""); the revelation of a doubting Jesuit as he cradles a dying boy (""The Expert on God""); and the pathetic story of an independent woman forced to reach out to someone inappropriate as she dies from cancer (""Rejoice and Be Glad""). Other shorts pursue less rewarding themes--artists searching for inspiration, teachers poisoned by their innate nastiness, the sexually repressed submitting to temptation. A futuristic Hawthorne-like tale, ""Nightfall,"" stands out among the latter for its satire on modern erotic sophistication. ""The Comedian,"" the other full-length story (much reprinted since its first appearance in print), concerns a female stand-up comic who finds herself pregnant with a singing fetus who shuts up only when she considers an abortion. L'Heureux's fiction flourishes when his characters are God-crazed and spiritually hungry; his more reflexive bits on the nature of art and desire yield little worth preserving.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking