HERSELF IN LOVE by Marianne Wiggins


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Thirteen stories in a catch-as-catch-can mix of methods and voices, by the author of Went South (1980) and Separate Checks (1984). Wiggins show herself here to be a wide-ranging master of narrative tones, but less convincingly a sound judge of the resilience or depth of what she accomplishes. The book opens with a plain-folks, back-country story (""Ridin' up in Front with Carl and Marl"") about a young woman's helplessness in the face of her husband's (he's a Vietnam vet) erratic and nightmare-ridden behavior; this is followed by a vastly different and rather Faulknerian historical pastiche about the death of Stonewall Jackson (""Stonewall Jackson's Wife""). The tentative reach of such pieces is equalled by ""Gandy Dancing,"" in which a Cheever-esque commuter is struck one day by the desire to travel (he ""smells- train""), and so sets off then and there on a transcontinental trip that's filled with train lore and fleetingly-glimpsed vestiges of Americana; but these better stories find poor company in the far thinner broth, say, of the ersatz-Salinger ""Insomnia"" (a kindergarten teacher loses her boyfriend), or the hyperactive wordiness of ""On the Coconuts"" (a jazzytoned look backward to a long-ago breakup). Sometimes pieces trying for the rich stuff of parody narrow down to the single-joke point of near-disappearance (in ""Kafkas,' a woman wants to marry a man named Kafka"" 'Cause then I'd be Fran Kafka""); while at other times the variously-styled rhetoric of pieces tends to balloon out grandly to carry along conceptions that are in reality rather hand-me-down or frail (""Green Park,"" ""Quicksand,"" ""Pleasure,"" ""Among the Impressionists""). A mix, in all: well stirred, with more bubbles than substance.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1987
Publisher: Viking