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by Lee Martin

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-9641151-2-3
Publisher: Sarabande

 A fine debut of seven stories, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction--all, save one, previously published in literary magazines. Together, the pieces make for a hauntingly coherent first collection, often about pitiful family scenarios in which loyalties are tested, lies offered and exposed, and in which ironies abound. A number of Martin's dull and witless men (as seen by their teenage sons/narrators) work in death-related jobs, which often cut their families off from normal lives. In the title story, a son witnesses the mental disintegration of his father, who works cleaning up crime scene fatalities. It's a job that satisfies his increasingly bizarre rage for order, an expression of the same obsessive neatness that drives his wife to distraction. ``Light Opera'' concerns the son of an undertaker who begins to see the appeal of his father's strange life as a constant mourner and affirms it by lying on his father's behalf. A cemetery manager leaves New Hampshire in scandal (``The Welcome Table'') and assumes a new identity with his family in Tennessee, where he forces his son into early civil rights involvement, which the son rejects. Indeed, the sins of the parents often bear upon the children in these tales of justice and revenge. A father's job as a scab worker at the local meat-packing plant destroys his son's happy life in ``The End of Sorry.'' In the long ``The Price Is the Price,'' a Jewish merchant in goyish Evansville, Illinois, tries to win back his assimilated son by developing an inexpensive housing project for black people, but the father's business drive gets the better of him. In two short bits, old people join together out of fear (``Small Facts'') and contemplate ``sin and offense'' (``Secrets''). Bleak midwestern landscapes well serve many of these stark and solid narratives.