NECTAR AT NOON by Sheila Cudahy


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Nothing at all like her first novel--The Trojan Gold (1979), a tale of suspense--these 16 stories by poet Cudahy brood on death and often measure its consequences for surviving children and spouses. The grimmest pieces involve suicide by defenestration. ""The Good Women"" is a young girl's memoir of her dead grandmother, which dwells on the suicide of the old woman's best friend, a senile nun, once exalted for her saintliness. A similar Irish-Catholic sensibility pervades ""The Wet Sidewalk,"" in which a grieving young widow jumps to her death after a one-night stand with a creep. Another young narrator, a teen-aged child of divorce, finds comfort with an elderly distant relative, a widower who mistakes her occasionally for his dead son (""Towing""). In ""Grass,"" a fatherless girl explains her widowed mother's attachment to their farmland, and her mother's worry that her son will be drawn away by a rootless girl he fancies. A less appealing child, motherless, in ""The Hired Girl"" boasts of how she and her siblings drive away their housekeeper with their violent escapades. ""Loving Duds"" is a long, poignant piece narrated by a self-described ""dud,"" a teen-aged girl who resents her beautiful adopted sister. Two self-consciously offbeat death-narratives concern a man misdiagnosed as terminal (""Everything"") and a young female cancer patient who's extraordinarily vain (""Ratings""). Two decidedly surreal bits strike an inappropriate tone, one about an isolated harbor community (""Saying Something""), the other about a girl who grows a beard (""Recognitions""). Perhaps the best piece in this largely undistinguished collection is ""Vital Signs,"" a vignette from the death watch of a wife for her actor-husband. Miscellaneous stories touch on subjects such as the pressures of parenthood and the existence of God. Some workmanlike tales, then, but few signs of life, in this dolorous volume.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich