THE BIG EAR by Robin Hemley


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 In a second collection, Hemley picks up where he left off in All You Can Eat (1988): lots of disaffected folks, in stories that try too hard to be quirky. The title piece sets the tone for much that follows. Peter is an eavesdropper and a prankster, struggling to receive some attention from a mother who can't focus beyond her boyfriend du jour. While the story has its funny moments, it (like too many here) leaves you feeling that life is just too disconnected to mean much of anything. Ditto ``The Last Customer,'' where a man and woman haggle over their food order--as the world outside is literally ``crumbling to pieces'': at the close, a piece of land rips free and the two hagglers are propelled up into space. Stories like ``A Printer's Tale'' and ``The Perfect World'' offer some sharp digs over the state of contemporary poetry but have trouble moving beyond the single joke. In ``The Holocaust Party,'' however, Hemley deals with more weighty matters. Here, the disaffected character is firmly in place, wondering at all the strangeness around him, but he does get a glimpse into the complicated nature of people whose brittle surfaces mask deeper hurts. Human frailty is the subject of ``My Father's Bawdy Song,'' an appealing tale of a man trying to know his long-dead father, even as he fears he might have inherited his legacy of failure. Of the 16 pieces here, though, ``Sleeping Over'' is by far the best. In it, a young boy makes friends with a local misfit, then is pushed away for reasons he can't comprehend. The reader understands, though, and is chilled by the knowledge. A few of Hemley's stories linger, disturb, and enlighten, but they make the bulk of the collection that much more problematic- -and, by comparison, very thin.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-89587-128-9
Page count: 194pp
Publisher: John F. Blair
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995


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