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by Nicholas Delbanco

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1989
ISBN: 0688047327
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Delbanco, author of the Sherbrookes trilogy (Possession, Sherbrookes, Stillness), here offers a second collection of intelligent but surfacey stories (About My Table, 1983), all concerning writers (mostly male) who must accommodate their illusions to reality. Of the nine pieces, the best is "The Day's Catch," a novella: David Levin, the protagonist, a writer who lives on Martha's Vineyard as companion to a blind boy, is concerned with voice—"the play of utterance—its registered timbre and range." By story's end, Levin, middle-aged, and his wife attempt to recapture their marriage on a Caribbean island, but Levin "had used up their story." The effective title story describes the coming-of-age of callow Mark Fusco, "enrolled in the school of real life"; after a publication party for his successful novel, a train accident spoils his literary illusions—but the analysis of those illusions becomes his subject. Of the rest: in "You Can Use My Name," three Iowa Writers' Workshop grads keep in touch for years, until, finally, Adam sees famous Richard in dissipation, and former lover Marian as "one chatty woman, spooning fruit." Likewise, "Palinurus" concerns a famous novelist and his lesser patron, a "writer who teaches" and who becomes the novelist's literary executor, subordinating his own life to the needs of executorship. "His Masquerade" concerns a professor unexpectedly moved by a mediocre but sincere visiting poet; in "The Brass Ring," a mid-life novelist of limited reputation sees a younger brother suffer through a bout with Guillain-Barr‚ syndrome; "Everything" is modified stream-of-consciousness about a writer near the end of his life as he waits to be photographed. The metaphor of the writer writing can wear thin, but, still, this is a solid—if specialized—collection about the disillusions and small epiphanies of the literary life.