BRAIN WORK by Michael Guista


Email this review


A California writer with a degree in psychology won the Bread Loaf Bakeless Prize with this beguilingly cerebral collection of 14 stories.

Oliver Sacks comes especially to mind when a reader delves into Guista’s digressive first story, “Filling the Spaces Between Us,” about a psychiatrist searching for “soul” in his patients who finally comes around to what is ailing his wife: she can no longer discern emotions after an accident with her horse. Guista’s first-person narrators suffer psychically, whether from Catholic guilt, or pain, or the disorientation of medication. In “A Walk Outside,” another doctor offers extracts from the diary of an intriguing patient, prosaically named Norman P. Bowls, whose affliction of chronic inactivity—the state of being “frozen”—spelled 30 years of “sinking yet never quite drowning.” “Step Four” traces the obsessive-compulsive behavior of a husband and father who has a phobia for batteries; fed up with the “unwavering blandness” of his controlling medication and four-step therapy, he decides to become a free character for the day, experiencing emotions extremely, and with tragic consequences. The Catholic catechism forms the textual structure in “The Interviewer” as the narrator offers a probing Q&A about his own conscience (and others’) before he attains a sense of peace. Some of the stories achieve a surreal, thrillingly dark twist, like “The Front Yard,” about a husband on a beer bender who returns home to find that his wife has moved all the furniture to the front lawn after having had a vision that Catholics are going to blow up their house. More traditional stories treat childhood guilt and divorcing parents, like “California,” about the breakup of a migraine-suffering husband and his adventurous wife in Florida: his inability to grow (“You grow outward, not up,” she says) prompts her to move out to California for its alluring “verticality.”

A fresh, distinctly unorthodox, intellectually satisfying collection of finely tuned fiction.

Pub Date: July 11th, 2005
ISBN: 0-618-54672-3
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2005