LIVES OF THE FATHERS by Steven Schwartz


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 Of these ten stories, another volume in the Illinois Short Fiction Series (see Burgin and Costello), two that dazzle concern sons who reach maturity through relationships with, or reminiscences of, their fathers; the rest either mark time or overreach. ``Madagascar'' (a Nelson Algren Award winner) is a marvelous reminiscence of a father's past as a Jew in Gestapo-controlled Amsterdam juxtaposed to the narrator's painful growth into adulthood. The story covers a lot of ground quickly through incisive instances. The other dazzler, the title story, wonderfully evokes a love that has lasted through the years. The narrator, after the death of his mother, helps his elderly father move. Together, they trace down a woman the old man barely knew long ago. When they find her, she's mostly senile, but the father brings her home anyway for a candlelit dinner and a heartrending summarizing image: ``He strokes her hair, then looks up at me and tells me with his eyes to mourn us all.'' Of the remaining pieces, the best include ``Summer Love,'' a Sixties-era saga about coming-of-age as a waiter at an aunt's hotel in the Catskills; ``Navajo Cafe,'' the story of a cross-country trek of a ten-year-old daughter and her father after the girl's mother dies, a journey that results in an accident as well as in some healing. ``Q 12081011,'' however, is a cluttered attempt to combine a tenth-grader, his gym class, his parents' divorce, the Holocaust, and cosmology as a metaphor for survival; ``Other Lives'' is a contrived surreal piece about a man whose car breaks down in a small New Mexican town; and ``Return With Us Now to Those Thrilling Days'' is a stale effort about a Sixties nostalgia party and a midlife crisis interrupted by a man in a gas mask with a knife. Schwartz is at his best when he forgoes cutesiness or needless complexity for honest fictional reminiscence. Some of these first appeared in Antioch, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Literary Review.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-252-01815-X
Page count: 152pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991


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