DREAMS OF DISTANT LIVES: Stories by Lee K. Abbott


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Abbott's fourth story collection (Strangers in Paradise, 1986, etc.)--which, like the others, is at times elaborately gimmicky and too slick for its own good; at other times full of appropriate comic zest and zappy linguistic turns. The best pieces here often work by contrasting types. Most affecting: ""1963,"" a trenchant slice-of-life about Marcia and Chappy, two precocious young adults (and, apparently, virgins) who still live with their parents; ""Revolutionaries,"" a tightly constructed confrontation between two former friends, one staid and suburban, the other wild and violent in the name of revolution; ""Here in Time and Now,"" in which the painful end of a son's first love is contrasted with the narrator's own memories from his mythical past; and ""The View of Me from Mars,"" a story-within-a-story in which a son must lie to protect his adulterous father. Even here the prose is occasionally distracting and mannered, but in the remaining stories, Abbott's facility takes center stage at the expense of content. We hear mostly about narrators in the middle of divorces: the highly mannered ""The Happy Parts"" concerns the aftereffects of a divorce; ""Once Upon a Time,"" centered on two dead dogs, uses flashback to explain a divorce; and ""Driving a Buick Home"" has a narrator who carouses with his stepfather after his mother leaves the man. ""Why I Live in Hanoi,"" about a group of trendy American GIs, is caricaturish, seeming to be slapped together from other people's fiction; and the title story is a slight though touching dream-journal. Always inventive and flashy, these stories can also be too cartoonish--though, even so, they manage often enough to get to the lyrical center of things.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1989
Publisher: Putnam