ONE WAY OR ANOTHER by Peter Cameron


Email this review


Spare, poised stories in a fashionably narrow range of the minor keys, with carefully plucked chords of foreboding and loss strumming just under the surface. Indebted mainly to J.D. Salinger--in matter and manner--these are stories about characters assumed to be considerably more sensitive than the implacable and uncooperative world they live in. A boy in ""The Last Possible Moment"" loves a girl who doesn't love him, and reminds us of Holden Caulfield in his efforts to pin down the homely and fragile evidences of his feeling: ""I realized for the first time what it meant to be in love: It means you sleep with someone, eat granola and blueberries with them, buy sneakers with them, and then go see Lili Marlene."" The small scale of such feelings can backfire into mere bathos (""For a second I have a horrible feeling that Lonnie will want a tutti-frutti,"" says a 16-year-old boy of his stepfather's choice of ice cream in ""Memorial Day"": ""It makes me want to cry""), while at other times it can leave a sense of the just-right and perfectly in tune (empty TV dinner trays hanging from a fruit tree to scare away birds, at the end of a failed marriage proposal--""Nuptials and Heathens""). Sensitivity and fragility, though, can easily cloy. A senile grandmother in ""Grounded"" sits at a rest stop on Route 80, left with nothing (in her life?) but an order of french fries which she ""holds. . .the way she once held injured birds, softly but tightly, so they don't fly away."" And the momentousness of response that seems to be invited is often in excess of the cause. In ""Excerpts from Swan Lake,"" two boys wish they could tell a senile grandmother (another one) that they are lovers; the youthful love/mortality motif is more slight and narcissistic than resonant or profound. In general here, the sense of brooding doom is captured in symbols, not character, leaving only a suggestion of what's amiss, seldom of how come. An earring, given for a wedding present, is lost in the crack of an elevator door (""Melissa and Henry--September 10, 1983""); in the weak ""Odd Jobs,"" an unhappy lover watches ""the snow just beginning to form, collecting itself, waiting to fall""; and in ""Fast Forward,"" a story of death by cancer and a pretended marriage engagement (to give solace to the dying), the would-be engaged boy waits for a champagne bottle to be opened, saying, ""I hate waiting for things to explode."" Delicate, skillful, and punctiliously conventionalized, these are stories for readers seeking the tone of depth, not depth itself. Of 14 pieces, eight have appeared in The New Yorker, five elsewhere.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row