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Certainly the jazziest of this year's Illinois quartet (see Glasser, Potter, and Rossiter), Vogan's is also the least satisfying--11 slick narratives that often manage to be both pointless and predictable. The most distinctive stories seem the most personal--one even has a female narrator named Vogan, and all concern tyrannical husbands and fathers. In the title piece, a long line of men obsessed with the military comes to an end during the Vietnam era, when a draft-dodging son clashes with his patriotic father, who's never lived down being 4F during WW II. The tyrant in ""The Strength of Steel""--easily the best and funniest story here--drags his reluctant family, all helpless females, from one indistinguishable steel town to the next so that by the time they almost reach the promised land of Pittsburgh, it's too little, too late. The former beauty queen of ""Miss Buick of 1942,"" haunted by her older sister's death in a car accident, never learns to drive, despite her husband's cruel lessons. Trendy fictions include the Carver/McGuane-ish ""Angels in the Snow,"" in which an L.A. woman who's followed a reg'lar guy to Wyoming, only to have him split for Alaska, is then pursued by a hard-drinking neighbor who leaves her notes saying, ""Attack Craziness. Fight Fish."" ""Sunday's No Name Band"" and ""China Across the Bay"" are both Ann Beattie-like bits of hippie nostalgia, the first celebrating female bonding and rock music, and the latter bemoaning the lost loves of an artist and a Zen-inspired carpenter. The most baffling trio of tales rework legends about Japanese cranes (""The Crane Wife""), a finch who serves gypsy fortunetellers (""The Confessions of the Finch""), and Eskimos (""Mozart in the Afternoon""). A steamy account of sexual slumming (""Hearts of a Shark"") closes out an otherwise overly self-conscious volume.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press