RELIABLE LIGHT by Meredith Steinbach


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Seven stories--each haunted by a finely tuned fictional intelligence that seems more at ease in the shorter form than in the author's recent novel, Here Lies the Water (above). In both cases, though, her prose is in greatest sympathy with characters who lead marginal lives. ""A Preponderance of the Small,"" one of the longer pieces here, concerns Mary Moran, who lives in a country of endless rain where there is ""not enough light for shadows to form."" She and her daughter Juliette lost Riley, her husband, when he went over a bridge, but her grief doesn't begin to recede until she meets Carrie Turner--a self-sufficient woman who decides to have a child on her own before going blind and killing herself and the child. Here, setting and interior landscape mesh almost exactly. ""In Recent History,"" likewise, is about a female protagonist (in this case, she shares an A-frame in the woods with Will) who becomes concerned for another (namely, XD, who may or may not be a Vietnam vet) and must witness helplessly as a tragedy takes place, this time at a Fourth of July fireworks display. ""Actual Oil,"" for a change of pace, is a comic fable about Maizie Lee--a young woman seduced by Daddy Hermes, a con man with a ""glassy-eyed face."" With characters like Mother Minto and bits of a phony religion, the story brings Flannery O'Connor to mind--in marked contrast to the more somber tone of the other pieces. Of the rest: ""To be Sung on the Water"" is a long poetic excursion into the mind of a woman facing the past death of her mother and the present death of her grandfather; ""Soundings in Feet and Fathom,"" from the point of view of a black doctor, is closely connected to Here Lies the Water. Often impressionistic stories in which Steinbach--at her best--maps out moments with the expertise of a cartographer.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1990
Publisher: Rutgers Univ. Press