THE VENUS TREE by Michael Pritchett


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Modest in length and ambition, this debut collection of ten stories--selected by Robert Stone for an Iowa fiction award--offers, at best, a few competent pieces--tales that waste few words and benefit from a plain style. Pritchett's attempts to be trendy and clever display all the cliches of putatively hip fiction. ""Fashion in the Third World"" pretends to be the diary of one family's captivity in their own suburban home, hostages of an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist revolutionary who soon grows fond of Coke and Oreos. The tale-within-a-tale in the title story juxtaposes a primitive marriage myth with the present-day difficulties of a stepfather and his ailing wife. Pritchett is more at home with realist fiction dealing with working people: the delivery man in ""Peach Seed,"" who waits patiently while his more sophisticated wife indulges herself one last time before becoming a mother; the radiator repairman in ""Trinity,"" who can't overcome the shock of his wife's accidental death; the Vietnam-vet souvenir-shop owner in ""People,"" who repudiates his ""trashy"" family, and takes up with a girl he mistakenly believes to be high class. Particularly resonant are ""Open Twenty. Four Hours,"" in which a stepfather's rage reveals his muted lust for his stepdaughter; and ""The Barrel Racer,"" a sensible account of middle-aged people choosing between loneliness and imperfect unions. ""Flying Lessons""--an attempt to shock with its story of Oedipal incest--strikes a particularly false note. Apprentice work: bland and mostly inoffensive.

Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press