CAMPFIRES OF THE DEAD by Peter Christopher


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Slim first volume (114 pages) of often even slimmer but word-intoxicated stories that careen, unballasted, from the mawkishly sentimental to the faddishly surface-driven and glib. A little girl on a farm observes the lingering death of a beloved grandfather ("Rosa and Della, Sandy and Bessie, Sister and Dinah" are dead cows from years before); another little girl, at a family reunion, loves her Daddy and the rest of her family so much that the story ends with the unlikely bursting forth of a prayer ("Campfires of the Dead"). Leaving the tender-of-tone behind, there are hard-boiled, dial-a-joke stories like "The Careerist," about uneducated people with funny names and ignorant habits ("'Oh yes,' Billy says, 'I say marry me to Sweet Miss Stringbean, or else'"); and half-surreal and cavalier word-floods like the egregiously titled "Hungry in America," about a dim-minded security guard who loses his wife when he follows a flamboyant sexpot ("You start out hungry for a little cuntlet other than the little cuntlet you have waiting for you at home, and the next thing you know you are with a lot of cuntlet not your wife"). Hyper-cuteness of this kind often apparently so enchants authorial ears that repetition ("Desperado is what everybody at the Legion calls Desperado. Billy is what everybody calls Billy. Sweet Miss Stringbean is what Billy and me call Sweet Miss Stringbean") is irresistible, as is the piling up of words for pure delay: "Farmer Brown is a big man. We are speaking now of Farmer Brown. . .I say to you he is one big man" ("Pastoral," a Barthelme spin-off about a man who slowly decomposes while his car is eaten by porcupines). Other stories include: "Flamingo and Other Self-Cures, Almost" (a man steals a plastic flamingo for a friend's grave, gets bitten in the buttocks by a pursuing dog); "The Man Who Failed to Whack Off" (an 83-year-old man dies in a peep show); and "Ways of Seeing" (before cheering crowds, a man throws a dwarf for distance records). If there is a center of feeling here, it doesn't reveal itself in these stories made up mainly of byproducts and filler.

Pub Date: May 5th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57122-3
Publisher: Knopf
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