LIVING TO BE A HUNDRED: Stories by Robert Boswell


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From the author of Mystery R/de, a collection of short stories that too often read like a few good characters in search of a major insight. All have previously been published in venues such as the New Yorker, Best American Short Stories 1989, and Ploughshares. An accomplished creator of vivid characters thoroughly and lovingly realized, Boswell is less original when it comes to creating defining moments for them. In the first story, ""Rain,"" which previously appeared in the New Yorker, a young woman joins a search party for a young boy lost in the nearby woods, and, long after the boy is found, finds herself questioning her marriage, her attraction to her co-searcher Orla (a divorced neighbor) and her longing to return to the forest. Only a re-enactment of the search with Orla gives her the less than earth-shattering epiphany she has been searching for. In ""The Good Man,"" the second New Yorker story and one of the best in the book, the match between character and situation is more subtly nuanced as a recovering alcoholic moves with his wife and family to Arizona, where his wife ""misses trees, grass, rain, snow but mostly trees,"" and sometimes even the way her husband used to be when he drank. Other notable stories are ""Grief,"" in which parents struggle to accept the death of a daughter in an accident that her boyfriend, the driver of the car, survives, and after which he goes on to court and marry their remaining daughter; ""Living to be a Hundred,"" which limns the sexual and class tensions of three former college students working in a small desert town; and ""Imagining Spaniards,"" in which a high school teacher is suddenly aware of ""the presence of death...death was not a metaphor. Its coarse tongue chafed his skin."" The least distinguished tale is ""Brilliant Mistake,"" a sexual awakening story that tries to be different but isn't. Beautifully wrought prose that tries too hard for the bells-and-whistles moment when a quieter, more subtle resolution would better serve. But a writer to watch.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1994
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Knopf