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First-timer Freeman explores love, loneliness, and the mysteries of identity in 11 rock-solid stories mostly about contemporary families in various states of repair. A gentle wit pervades Freeman's title piece, in which a 63-year-old former bachelor--a large and lumbering lug--takes his young wife and her twin daughters from an earlier marriage on a family outing that proves more tiring than he'd care to admit. A similar light touch characterizes ""The Rake People,"" a young Californian's account of his dog's disappearance with the Mexican gardener--a man who seems to threaten the Angle's marriage as well. The travelling widow of ""The Botanical Gardens,"" herself something of a misanthrope, handles her loss poorly; on vacation in Australia, she despairs over the invariably flawed men she meets, especially the rough-edged Aussie she dates down-under. Several stories set in Utah include the somewhat schematic tale of a Mexican immigrant couple, sponsored by the Mormon church, who undergo a reversal of beliefs when the husband, a devout convert, recovers from a bad illness--he thinks his wife's superstitious Catholicism saved him (""The Death of a Mormon Elder""). And ""Pretend We're French"" is a writer's memoir of her big-city cousin from Salt Lake who initiated the narrator into womanhood. After much failure in communication, three generations of women in ""What Is This Movie?"" come together in a mild act of vengeance against a man who's done one of them wrong. The oldest of these three women, a lonely widow, reappears in ""The Joan Crawford Letter,"" in which she discovers an intimate letter from the star to her husband, and at the same time strikes up a romance with the UPS man. Another pair of excellent stories (""Going Out to Sea"" and ""Clearfield"") follow a teenage mother through trying times with her sickly child, her unfaithful husband, and her life as a divorced mother back in Utah. The best here are works of quiet affirmation, startling for their clarity of purpose and design.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking