COMPANION PIECES by Jonathan Strong


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 Two novellas from Strong (Secret Words, 1992, etc.)--one about family secrets, the other about a man who lives alone across an alleyway from another man with a similar name: gentle, warmhearted fictions, the former is a bit cluttered and repetitious, while the latter plays to Strong's best suit--his ability to evoke the pleasures of loneliness. In ``Doing and Undoing,'' two brothers, Daniel and Sim Poore, take a five-day trip back to their childhood home--their grandmother's large house in Illinois farmland that has since become a monastery. Strong pairs off chapters--Sim's dreams, Dan's dreams, Sim's thoughts, Dan's thoughts, conversations between various family members--to tell his story. It can be magical at times, especially when sometimes-painful memories are juxtaposed with Dan's childhood made-up country of Tannu Tuva; but it can also be self-indulgent, particularly when Strong lapses into a modified stream-of-consciousness that tends to clutter up rather than clarify the family saga. While we're brought discursively and intimately into the family circle, the narrative finally gets tedious, especially since it inevitably curls back upon itself to try to dramatize the necessity of traveling back and forth in time. ``Game of Spirit,'' however, takes us all the way back to Strong's early style in Tike and Five Stories (1969): it's about Lou, who lives across the alley from Lew, and who meets an engaging assortment of neighbors since he lives alone (``It is warm now up to his belly button. Black floorboards, dark green rug, the book piles...''), checking out ten books a day, all the people once in his life ``long gone from here'' until, finally, ``He forgets if he is Lou or Lew.'' A charming, moving update on spacey 60's types, then, is delivered with an incisive work-a-day style, whereas ``Doing and Undoing'' is both more ambitious and less successful.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-944072-28-3
Page count: 232pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993


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