PRIVATE ACTS by Robert Pope


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Nine stories, Pope's first collection, that are erudite portraits of off-kilter people and memoirs of childhood--making for a solid, eclectic book held together by a surreal patina. The memoirs are part reminiscence and part meditation on a militaristic father. ""Flip Cards"" begins with a description of collecting and playing with baseball cards, then turns inward to question its own reason for being: ""Must I arrive at last to a final moral or political or literary statement?"" The question becomes that statement by asserting that crafted memory contains its own shapeliness. ""A Million Billion Trillion Stars,"" set in 1962, is a first-person account of a paperboy fascinated by Killer, his opposite; an accident results in a third boy's death, but not before Killer shows a tenderness and mature compassion the narrator had never witnessed (""What if it had been Killer who died, instead of Killer the good Samaritan?""). ""The Dream of Childhood"" works out the implications of its first two sentences: ""Father was a zoologist of sorts. Mother loved puzzles."" The childhood narrator mythologizes initiation experiences, occasionally in overwrought (but appropriate) prose. ""The Captain and the German Girl,"" a story-within-a-story, again concerns a son attempting to penetrate the enigma of his father's life through the latter's story about love and espionage. In ""Beth,"" a longer and moving fiction, offered as ""the transcript of a dream,"" the narrator remembers his young sister who has died. Of the others, ""Solitary"" is Kafkaesque; ""Thena"" a rather stilted tale about a woman pregnant for three years; ""The Passion of St. Edmund"" an elegiac piece about the life of a medieval lord and a bittersweet contemporary narrator; and ""The Recital"" a story about a musical academic. The best of these are humane, thoughtful pieces about the countries of childhood, with enough metaphorical echoes to remind any reader of home.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Another Chicago Press