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THIRST by Ken Kalfus



by Ken Kalfus

Pub Date: June 19th, 1998
ISBN: 1-57131-018-5
Publisher: Milkweed

It’s not easy to identify author Kalfus in this debut volume, since its mode, manner, and voice change as with the colors of the chameleon. Perhaps the 14 pieces vary so from having been written over a long a period; many, in any case, are notably less original or adept than others. The ghosts of O. Henry and his legions haunt simple, surprise-ending stories like “Bouquet” (an Irish au pair aghast at the licentiousness of Paris) and “Suit” (a young man being tailored for his appearance in court); others follow the same path but stroll also toward the occult, as in the Jekyll and Hyde “Night and Day You Are the One” and “The Weather in New York” (an apartment-bound man realizing that a snowstorm will never end). Kalfus’s least resonant efforts are his most “realistic,” as in the suburban tale of boyhood cruelty to animals (“Cats in Space”) or the Hemingway-esque effort about coming home again (“Among the Bulgarians”), which lies limp on the page in spite of its echoes of classics like “Soldier’s Home.” The fellow who lusts after his wife’s friend (“Rope Bridge”) has far too little to show or tell for himself, and a Thailand-set tale of human tragedy (“No Grace on the Road”) becomes clumsy and tendentious. Kalfus’s stronger talent lies in less conventional directions the sparkling little essay-pieces of “The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz,” for example, or the simultaneously historic, surreal, and lovely “The Republic of St. Mark, 1849”). Even then, Kalfus needs to guard against a debilitating coyness of tone, as in his “Invisible Malls” (Marco Polo explains malls to Kublai Khan), but his inventiveness and lyricism here or in “A Line Is a Series of Points” (entire villages wander across the countryside) are his best, and often captivating. A middling mix, with glimmers of real strengths in the offing.