STAR GAME by Lucia Nevai


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Fourteen competent but varyingly commonplace--and sometimes just plain shallow-visioned--pieces from the 19th winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award. A handful of divorce-and-domestic, rearrangement stories have their graceful moments but seldom cut deep: ""The Nile"" is the most evocative and fully fleshed of these (a woman realizes she's never been in love with her self-infatuated husband), while others are rushed (as in ""Mother's Day,"" where a man tries to grow close to his new lover's sons) or try for symbolic depth with light characters that just won't pull their weight (as in the linked stories ""Connor's Lake"" and ""Star Game""). Nevai is at her best in the unpretentious and familiar stoW of a puberty-poised sixth-grade girl at summer camp (""Baby Wood""), and in the Dreiser-toned naturalism of ""Mr. Feathers"" (a lonely girl meets a married man and in time, rather than give him up, chooses murder-suicide) she achieves a certain, if well-echoed, strength. Other stories tend toward the message-heavy and parablelike (""The Sad-Womb Son,"" about a missing child) or toward the slight and overarranged (""Diamond Twill,"" in which a young woman, unsuccessful in love, joins a commune of artisans). Least successful, if most surface-energetic, are Nevai's forays into the comedy of rural poor whites, where her neo-Snopesian characters are put glibly through the equivalent of black-face vaudeville antics rather than being allowed to express what might be more authentic in the squalor and pain of their lives (""Resident Artist,"" ""Hooked,"" ""Red Spikes""). Uneven stories that, for the most part, haven't yet found their material.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press