NORMAL by Lucia Nevai


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 The most agreeable pieces in Nevai's second collection (Star Game, 1987) suggests that social workers rush in where angels fear to tread, which is a welcome view in fiction largely concerned with family dysfunction, alcoholism, divorce, and madness--in short, with families who desperately need help. These 12 stories, almost all previously published in literary magazines, often rely on a sly point of view. When the liberal parents in ``Monsieur Alle,'' from Manhattan's Upper West Side, are investigated by a Social Services worker, it's difficult to figure out who's hurting the most in this screwy family. Equally winning is ``Me, Gus,'' a first-person narrative of a short Italian fellow from Jersey who gets little respect from his extended family, but discovers his true calling as a graphic designer in Manhattan, where he also seduces a wealthy heiress and conquers his longtime fear of the Holland Tunnel. Families connect and disconnect throughout these stories. In ``Close,'' a social worker who counsels teenage suicide survivors panics en route to a funeral for her brother, who has died of AIDS, knowing that she'll have to deal with her unsympathetic siblings and parents. Difficult father/daughter reunions figure in ``Release,'' ``Normal,'' and ``Quinn's Wedding'': The first finds a tough-loving father picking up his truant runaway daughter from a mental hospital; the second reunites a runaway junkie daughter with her still hypercritical father--even though she's now clean, married, and a mother; and the last involves a moment of triumph for a middle-aged recovering druggie/alcoholic, who finally returns home to confront her pedophile father. Other tales feature a subway drunk, a self- mutilating girl, and a middle-manager on a fateful Colorado rafting trip. Some of the shorter pieces beg for development, and settle too readily for cynicism and glibness, but the strongest stories here make it clear that Nevai is a real talent with a ready wit and a steady gaze.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56512-158-9
Page count: 238pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997