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SILENT PASSENGERS by Larry Woiwode

SILENT PASSENGERS

Stories

By Larry Woiwode

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-689-12159-8
Publisher: Atheneum

 Ten stories treating instances of heightened memory and perception by men, usually fathers, as ordinary life goes on around them in the North Dakota, Montana, and northern plains, by masterful but inconsistent Woiwode (Indian Affairs, 1992, etc.). There is much here that's mawkish--and much that's emotionally clear and true. In ``Possession,'' the mawkish predominates: a sheep rancher whose toddler won't sleep irritably tries to imagine what the child might be afraid of, before it dawns on him that the boy's (rightly) afraid of the rancher's brooding, petty jealousy of the mother. In both ``Winter Insects'' and ``Blindness,'' men find themselves temporarily struck blind by a combination of overwork, heightened emotional sensitivity, and snowy, hazardous weather; each is brought to safety by his young daughter, but not before the author's use of the psychological motif of sight has been painfully belabored. And in ``Sleeping Over,'' a glimpse of a former lover's clothes drying on a line sets up a terrible longing in a midwestern boy whose future seems to be evaporating before his eyes; but the woman is so scantly characterized that it's hard for a reader to understand, much less empathize. In ``Owen's Father,'' though, Woiwode is closer to his best, subtly and brilliantly rendering the chilling effect on a young man of suddenly remembering childhood events, previously buried, shared with his dead father--including the days just before the father's suicide. Affecting memories also drive ``Black Winter,'' in which a 50-ish former philosophy professor who now lives on his grandfather's farm finds a new identity in pursuing his grandfather's old trade, and the beautiful (though slow-to-start) title story, in which a father comes to terms with the partial paralysis of his beloved nine-year-old son. The other entries here are sketches--a meditation on ``Confessionals'' and a rhapsody on oranges eaten during a 1940's childhood. A mixed bag--and rather downbeat.