UNDER THE WHEAT by Rick DeMarinis


Email this review


DeMarinis' fifth book (Cinder, Jack and Jill, Scimitar, A Lovely Monster), and winner of this year's Drue Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction. Seven stories that canter right along with more show than substance. The title story (a man services the sump pumps, 90 feet below the North Dakota wheat fields, of as-yet empty missile silos) sets the tone here with a touch-of-the-surreal verve and a cocky sure-footedness propelled, as always, by the author's undeniably silver tongue. A wife disappears, tornadoes appear in the prairie sky, and there's a half-dissociative threat of cataclysmic emptiness all about. In ""Good Wars,"" though, long and blissfully rambling, an attempt to pair a father's breakdown after WW II with a son's aimlessness in the 60's largely fails, there being no coupling in mood, and perhaps as little in content. ""The Smile of the Turtle"" (relentless door-to-door salesman), ""Blind Euchre"" (drugs and spiritual emptiness among the conspicuously rich), and ""Life Between Meals"" (seriocomedy of romance among the very fat), even from so experienced a writer, seem classroom exercises on short-fiction hits, receiving A+ for execution, C+ for breaking ground. ""Weeds"" suffers from no lack of energy except, again, the conceptual (a jes'-plain-folks' down-home farm is accidentally sprayed with a hyperbolically effective weed killer), as it degenerates into a parable on the dangers of herbicides (""The wind raised black clouds of seed in grainy spirals that reached the top of the sky, then scattered them, far and wide, across the entire nation""). And ""Billy Ducks Among the Pharaohs"" thins out further, in spite of its complicated symbols, into cartoon characters in the throes of familiar white-trash depravity. A carnival of eloquence, mainly surface-fancy and brightly painted.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1986
Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press