THE PEOPLE I KNOW by Nancy Zafris


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Nine well-crafted stories, some of which have appeared in small magazines, make up this latest Flannery O'Connor winner, a collection of character studies in which ordinary people long for extraordinary lives, and sometimes find their prayers answered. Only one of these studies in boredom infects the reader with its dull vision--""Cosmetic Surgery,"" the portrait of a young woman transformed by a name change and plastic surgery, concerns her attempt to find excitement in adulterous affairs with men she holds in contempt, men who were just more of ""the stupid things in the world"" for which ""she was too smart."" A similiar smugness is actually a rather winning personality trait in the high-school senior who narrates the title story, her catalogue of embarrassments by her 36-year-old, unmarried mother, a seemingly pathetic medical secretary who proves, to the narrator's surprise, capable of saving a life. The flight from boredom takes many forms here: a Japanese businessman in ""Meeting in Tokyo,"" oppressed by years of conformity to his overly formal culture, samples adultery; a woman confined to an old-age home (""Morning at the Beach"") pretends to be partners with a young burglar, whom she alerts to absent neighbors across the street, and a young man who runs his family's unglamorous business (""The Metal Shredders"") dreams of a more conventional corporate career, and finds temporary thrills when a junked car yields illicit riches. Drabness is imposed by fate on the narrator of ""From Where I Sit,"" a handicapped woman who recalls a life of ""warm regard and gratitude,"" all the time envying the ""alarming passions"" of her wild and irrepressible sister. A similar victim of fate is the young Japanese countrywoman in ""Final Weeks"" who is encouraged by the narrator, an American student, to abandon her oppressive life in the remote mountains. Perhaps the single most surprising and dramatic change comes about in ""A Minor Fatality"" when the newly widowed narrator happens into an A.A. meeting and finally confronts his own alcoholism. Credible and oddly affecting, Zafris' best stories are humble affirmations--and wholly in keeping with this modest debut.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0820334200
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia Press