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and Other Tales

by Marilyn Sides

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-517-70395-5
Publisher: Harmony

 An unfulfilling first collection containing a short story and four heavily detailed but quirky novellas, by O. Henry Prize winner and Kenyon Review contributor Sides. All five tales place lonely characters in obsessive subcultures. In the title piece, the shortest and best of the novellas, a spinsterish 40-year-old Boston-based dealer travels to Amsterdam to view two unusual picture maps--her specialty--being offered for sale, one of which, she discovers, showing the outline of an island that evokes her own buried eroticism. In ``Kites,'' a young husband on vacation with his wife, who has been trying to conceive a child, contemplates the wife's sudden passion for kites with fear and envy of the freedom they represent for her. ``The Bead Trade'' explores a middle-aged man's unrequited romantic obsession with a female sculptor whose commissioned work--carving and installing a set of giant beads made of granite boulders- -magnifies the meaning of his work, collecting and selling the small, handmade Central American beads that he's come to love. In the long (too long) novella, ``The Master of the Pink Glyphs,'' Morley--a Cambridge schoolteacher whose European lover has left her to travel and may even have died on a visit to Burma or Java--routs herself from lethargy and plans a Mexican trip that turns into an archeological expedition obscurely in his honor. And in the short story, ``Temporary Tattoos,'' Bingham, a similarly lonely young Boston businesswoman, tries to excise the memory of a lost lover by taking temporary measures--getting a washable tattoo, having an office affair--that threaten to become permanent. In all five pieces, characters' lives are not really enriched by their meticulously presented experiences; rather, their obsessions are hardened when they try to share their inner lives and can't. The result is a series of small, dusty, dim fictional worlds. A gifted writer, but hard going.