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 An unremarkable gathering of fiction, poetry, and essays by writers who have involved themselves over the years with the National Undergraduate Literature Conference held at Weber State University in Utah, where the editors teach. Many of the writers here (e.g., Ann Beattie, E.L. Doctorow, Carolyn Forche) are widely anthologized elsewhere. And lacking a strong thematic focus, this collection can't seem to find its own identity, although a handful of pieces do consider reading and writing as a topic. In Ray Bradbury's pleasantly manic story, a small-town boy meets up with an exotic out-of-town adult who claims to be Charles Dickens but is really a failed writer. The boy's admiration for the Dickens impersonator offers a parable as well as a fantasy--the enthusiastic reader as the best possible crony for any author, whether faux or bona fide. George Garrett's essay is another standout: He crisply tells the tale of his father's right- minded revenge on the bigoted southern burg where he practiced law. ``This is a true story about my father, a true story with the shape of a piece of fiction. Well, why not?'' begins Garrett. ``The purpose of fiction is simply to tell the truth.'' Richard Ford's reminiscence about his early struggles to be published cheerfully dismisses conventional career wisdom about how to enter the literary ranks. Ford's bemusement with bromides leads to a realism that's appealing and convincing. Too many writers, though, don't contribute their best work to the volume. The poems by Garrett, Howard McCord, and Catherine Bowman are unextraordinary, and Doctorow's brief essay about his boyhood discovery of reading is emphatically minor. John Barth's ``Excerpt From the Tidewater Tales'' is a coy, tirelessly self-conscious flirtation with fiction as a genre. Only a small number of pieces included have not been published previously. Mainly, this is a souvenir program for a creative writing symposium.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-87905-794-7
Page count: 344pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997