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A second collection from a former winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award (The Long White, 1988): ten mildly inspired stories that, like interesting inflatables, could have used an extra breath or two to bring them into a taut, emotionally compelling form. Dilworth shows a strong sense of place, but her ability to evoke the inner territory of longing seems less acute. Besides locale (the settings are mostly in Michigan and Pennsylvania) what unifies these tales are the alternative routes people take to fulfill their frustrated desires for human intimacy. In “Keeping the Wolves at Bay,” a son on the eve of his wedding travels to Europe with his deceased father’s gay lover—and decides to cancel his misguided marriage plans. “Three Fat Women of (Pittsburgh Just Visiting) Antibes” features a trio of friends who discover that the warmth of their argumentative friendship compensates nicely for their failed attempts to find love. The women of the title piece are beautiful strangers who arrive in a small Michigan town, have a drink in a bar, then disappear, compelling a lonely local to cross an icy lake to find them again. In “Awaken With My Mother’s Dreams,” the strongest story here, a daughter gains knowledge from her mother’s attempts to overcome isolation, even as her sisters protest the dangerous kayak fling the mother insists on taking. No story disappoints, but neither is any richly engaging. Dilworth often attempts to dramatize the conflicts of her characters by setting them in stark, unforgiving places: the harsh winter cold of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; the soggy gray of western Pennsylvania; a volcano near Hawaii that erupts obscurely, with no witnesses to view it. But while these landscapes are cleanly molded, their implications fail to illustrate or justify the blandly evoked lives of such people and their one-dimensional appetites. The result: a gathering of sagging forms, promising in outline, but lacking distinct shape.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8142-0812-6
Page count: 220pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998