THE STORE OF A MILLION ITEMS by Michelle Cliff

THE STORE OF A MILLION ITEMS

Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A wispy second collection (after Bodies of Water, 1990) of 11 often inchoate stories from the Jamaican-born author of, among others, Free Enterprise (1993). Mostly told in present tense and dominated by brief sentence fragments, these are expressions of cultural and ethnic dislocation and conflict whose protagonists are, generally, Caribbeans either possessed by visions of American wealth and security (as in the title piece) or struggling to understand the imperfect fulfillment of their fantasies once they’ve emigrated. Cliff’s prose is assured and rhythmic, but there’s virtually no dramatic tension in the majority of these sketches (several really can’t be called stories). Some verge on sociological reportage (“Apache Tears”); a few seem autobiographical (“Stan’s Speed Shop,” “Wartime,” and especially a tale of former lovers’ reunited: “Art History”). But the most frustrating inclusion is “A Public Woman,” which, though fascinating in its elliptical account of a courtesan’s murder a century ago, is clearly only a prÇcis—Cliff’s notes, if you will--of a story she hasn’t written yet. Vivid descriptions help, as do recurring elements--such as the use of American movies as examples of possessions and states of being to which her frequently indigent characters aspire (“Some of our best times are spent in the dark, thrilled by the certainty that in the dark anything can happen”). Accordingly, Cliff succeeds best with the nicely developed “Monster,” about an ardent newlywed determined to bond with his Jamaican bride’s family by stubbornly completing a screening of the classic horror film Frankenstein--even after the theater catches fire. Better yet is the volume’s opening story, “Transactions,” which traces the grimly comic consequences of an American traveler’s purchase of a defiant young girl from her impoverished family. Apart from these two, the momentum is essentially downhill in a disappointing patchwork publication from a writer who’s capable of much better work than this.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-90129-4
Page count: 128pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998