NIGHT DRIVING by John VandeZande


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Eleven stories mainly about working people up in Wisconsin and northern Michigan: a first book that--though with its moments of strength--reads largely like extended and dutiful exercises in classroom fiction. Careful detail stands up and marches here in piece after piece, but the stories it serves are often familiar and sometimes inert. In ""Night Driving,"" a farm boy living among hidebound folk releases his youthful frustrations by driving his car fast on empty country roads; the detail enlivens the character more fully than it does in the adventure-filled but psychologically reed-thin ""Coming Ashore,"" about a small boat capsizing in icy waters, or than in ""Road Kill,"" where the emotional drama orchestrated by the author far exceeds the incident that presumably gives rise to it (three men mercy-kill a deer that's been hit by a car). Faulkner is shamelessly evoked in the most garrulously slow of his manners, putting the reader's patience to trial in stories of long-remembered family hardships like ""Fox Feed"" (a man falls so low as to shoot horses) or in stories of country town sociopolitics like ""Stations"" (an overreaching entrepreneur is boycotted by his fellow townsmen). Sometimes stories simply remain stubbornly unresilient, like over-chewed gum, as in the slice-of-local-life ""The Good Life"" (an unrequited lover shoots his ex-girlfriend) or ""Child Rearing"" (an 18-year-old goes off on hunting trips, having become sour and disapproving when his widowed mother begins to date). ""Swimming,"" the best in the volume, is about a willing father who nevertheless fails to find or hold jobs (as in ""The Sound of the Lafayette Escadrille""), and its symbols--the father is drawn to water, swims every chance he gets: keeping afloat against odds--achieve a fitting life of their own and give a transfusion of originality to the story. In all, capable stories that haven't yet outgrown used voices.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1989
Publisher: Arbor House--dist. by Morrow