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by Jonis Agee

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56689-032-2
Publisher: Coffee House

 Thirty-plus ``short-shorts'' hover around several common incidents--a sister's suicide, small-town women navigating lives of depressing claustrophobia. The author of two novels (Strange Angels, 1993) and a previous collection (Bend This Heart, 1989), Agee shows she can brew up a potent moonshine that combines literary surrealism with country & western jukebox wisdom. The problem is the hangover such prose can bestow. In ``My Last Try,'' the language strains for effect: ``That day the sun shone mean and glittery as a knife in my throat. Like a Broadway musical of my life, The Phantom of the Opera gone bad, and I was expected on stage any minute, with the mask covering whatever ugliness I'd been up to.'' Yet once the author gets her engines running, the story becomes a moving portrayal of a middle- aged woman's adultery: ``I felt tired that month, going from one to the other, like a mother with two sick children or a person with two jobs.'' Meanwhile, two longer works, ``Dead Space'' and ``There Has to be a Beginning,'' show up the thinness of the smaller efforts. Indeed, few of the short-shorts work--though ``The Change Jar'' is an exception: In just two pages, it manages to produce the impression that we know a disppointed man's life, inside and out. But Agee's best work comes in glimpses from inside flawed stories-- a portion of ``Cata,'' the middle of ``The Jesus Barber Shop''- -leaving the impression that perhaps the problem is with the form itself, which turns Agee skittish. A few of these pieces (in this latest addition to the Coffee- To-Go Short-Short Story series) provide jolts of recognition, but too many end up feeling like writing exercises: as cryptic as runes, they neither rise nor converge.