BORROWED VOICES by Roger Sheffer


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This first collection of 13 stories, some first published in quarterlies (South Dakota Review, Descant, Lake Street Review), is set in the fictional midwestern town of White River Falls. Involvement with music, especially choral music, serves as metaphor for the ways in which pettiness and beauty compete for attention in a small town. In the title story, Sylvia, an eloquent voice teacher, tells the narrator and Kathy that ""people who sing can escape out of this painful dimension of our bodies."" Kathy, tragically, learns this lesson all too literally: she ""started singing, went away from her voice too long, and never found her way back,"" and ends up in a psychiatric ward. In ""Playing by Ear,"" the narrator remembers aged visitors, aggravating until one plays an old piano ""without stopping to think,"" ""connected to something."" ""Tenant"" is a moving tale of identity-shifting: Carolyn,45, sits outside the tenant's door as he sings and voyeuristically follows him to his singing group at church, and he in turn imagines himself into her life when he returns to her house. The last six stories all concern, in one way or another, the White River Oratorio Society: in ""Anatomy of Singing,"" Angela, an expert in vocal anatomy who ""treated each vowel sound as a kind of mischievous 'facial spirit,' "" faces her cancer without losing such a spirit, inspiring the narrator; ""Harmony"" is about a woman who changes her name and survives trauma ""by finding a positive thing, like music""; and ""Benefactor"" is about a man so trapped by pride that he quits the choir (and also withholds a large annual donation) when another tenor beats him out. A few stories are episodic or inconclusive, but, overall, this is a solid collection that will be of special interest to music lovers.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: New Rivers--dist. by Talman (150 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011)