ALL YOU CAN EAT: Stories by Robin Hemley


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Thirteen stories, some of which have appeared in little magazines, make up a debut collection that strains to be offbeat, but impresses more as a callow vision of everyday grotesqueness, with flights of surreal fancy. The irony of ""Clues"" is that all the random oddities spotted by the protagonist add up to no solution--the bowling bails left on the doorsteps in one neighborhood accumulate in a warehouse to no apparent purpose. Equally surreal, ""Rainwalkers"" is the second-person narrative of a confused young fellow, out walking in the rain, who runs into a woman carrying a fire extinguisher, herself unprotected from the elements. But paradigmatic of Hemley's found craziness is ""Installations,"" which chronicles the strange relation between a conductor on the Chicago El and a New Wave performance artist who tries to transform all kinds of junk into art. A number of stories detail the strange responses some people have to grief. In ""The Mouse Town,"" two young, fatherless boys play games that are reminiscent of the manners in which their fathers died, and that include torturing mice. In ""Riding the Whip,"" a boy upset by his suicidal sister submits to torture on an amusement ride--to which he returns. In ""Polish Luggage,"" a young married woman narrates the details of a wake for her father, an unusual event that re-creates her parents' first date. And in ""Digging a Hole,"" the narrator begins digging holes in his ex-wife's backyard, his way of commemorating their dead son. Eating lots of pancakes figures prominently in ""Dropping the Baby,"" as well as in the title story, a weird account of an all-you-can-eat church social, complete with a live appearance by Aunt Jemima herself. Other pieces include a pointless vignette about noisy neighbors (""The Trumpet Player and His Wife""); and another mean-spirited story about a husband and wife who begrudge each other their tacky legacies from dead relatives (""A Sentimental Wolf""). Despite the title, you'll leave this book hungry, but not for more of this tasteless fare.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1988
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown