LEGACIES by Starling Lawrence


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 Eight graceful stories in a debut collection from Norton's editor in chief: tales that vary greatly in subject and setting but rely on a similar sense of revelation, and on the ``weak magic'' provided by light. The play of shadow and illumination figures prominently in Lawrence's imagistic tales, whether he's rendering moments of hazy nostalgia or highlighting an edgy sexuality. In fact, the sexual stories, with their suggestions of forbidden love, often verge on the kinky. In ``Reunion,'' a Minnesota housewife whom friends consider ``logical'' and ``consistent'' decides to meet with her former lover from New York, a man she hasn't seen in ten years; but a degrading experience on the bus to Duluth turns her desire into a fierce appetite for violent revenge. ``The Gift'' explores sadomasochism quite explicitly in the tale of a married man, frightened by his own desire for another woman, with whom he explores rough sex. The sexual secrets of Central Park rambles reveal themselves in ``Desire Lines,'' in which a young woman's passion for bird-watching results in an unexpected act of violence. Lawrence also tells a number of stories from a young boy's perspective: A privileged youth in ``Legacy'' seeks his lawyer father's advice concerning a ribbon display promised him by his dying great-aunt; another boy grows up in a multigenerational, bookish household in which the men tirelessly discuss the aftermath of WW II, which took the health of the boy's uncle; and in ``Immortality,'' the narrator, who feared his great-aunt's obese adopted daughter, discovers in adulthood that she was probably his father's lover early on. Precious memories cloud the minds of dying old folks in airless tales of an old Connecticut farmer (``The Crown of Light'') and a great-grandmother at a family gathering (``Butterflies''). Lawrence's deliberate tales quietly develop considerable force, displaying nuanced, careful artistry.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-18474-7
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996


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