THE PRESENCE OF THINGS PAST: Stories by John Taylor

THE PRESENCE OF THINGS PAST: Stories

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Forty-two short-shorts, collected from two volumes originally published in France, chronicle a childhood and adolescence in Des Moines, Iowa. Together, the stories work like a snapshot album, with the life that's put on display full of odd Spoon River Anthology-like portraits but little real conflict. ""The images blend, overlap,"" Taylor writes in the penultimate piece, ""The View from the Upper Window."" Otherwise, he describes in his own voice the loss of relatives and friends he grew up with in the 50's and 60's. In these evocative vignettes, instances are rendered vividly but never developed. Flipping through the snapshots is like glimpsing a life through anecdotes: ""Childhood Playmates"" (""My first death was Bud, Nancy's father""); ""Goodwin"" (""a mental genius and physical moron""); ""Nana"" (a woman whose ""friends began dying, one after another""); ""Tower Park"" (sketch of a place off-limits to a child, and thus all the more alluring and mythological); ""Andy Bill"" (a suicide); and the elegiac ""Words of Farewell"" (""friends who came into my life only to say good-bye and leave""). Other pieces, set in the present, allow characters to look back from a different perspective: in ""A Conversation,"" for instance, Taylor and his siblings talk about Des Moines, where their father still lives, and one sibling finally asks Taylor the crucial question--""Would you like to be buried there?"" Most of the stories come back to the theme of mortality: at their best, they're quirky and original, as in ""Breakfast with Casey Stengel."" But finally, whether flat or inventive, they're all like ""The Fond Memory,"" prose poems that enshrine small moments from the author's past in piecemeal fashion. The entire collection, though undramatic, is a sort of Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine remembrance of the Midwest as a golden place, a green world that lives on only in memory.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1992
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Story Line Press