Kirkus Star


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Grounded in the realities of ethnic life in Chicago, Dybek's second collection of stories (Children and Other Neighborhoods, 1980) transcends street-corner sociology for an urban poetry of spirit and myth; his lyrical prose derives its power from his switchblade sharp imagery--as well as a Proustian sensitivity to the smells and sounds of city life. Every story here, from the half-page shorts to the lengthy, conventional narratives, serves as a gloss on the others, creating a coherence of design and texture truly worthy of comparison with Joyce's epiphanic Dublin tales or Anderson's midwestern elegiacs. ""Bottle Caps,"" ""Lights,"" and ""The Woman Who Fainted"" all detail odd rituals--collecting beer-bottle caps, waiting on the corner at dusk to tell drivers to turn on their lights, and watching each Sunday in church for the writing flower of a woman who regularly faints. This is a memory book as well, with portraits of a nervous Russian ÉmigrÉ (""Entrance"") and a cat-lady who collects stray animals (""Strays""). Lyrics celebrate working as a movie usher (""Outtakes"") and an old radio show (""Lost""). ""Death of the Right Fielder,"" a brilliant comment on neighborhood myth-making, is a surreal epitaph for a lost right-fielder, felled by a heart problem but rumored to have died more glamorously in his most unglamorous position. The longer stories represent various stages of passage and revelation. In ""Chopin in Winter,"" a young boy with problems in school listens to the ethereal piano-playing of a neighbor's unmarried daughter, who's returned home from school pregnant and in disgrace; his own prodigal grandfather, an embarrassment in his own right, has shown up just in time to share with his grandson an extraordinary appreciation for music. ""Blight"" and ""Hot Ice"" take place in the late teens of a boy's life--the budding hipsters here hang out, cruise the mean streets, and eventually drift apart because of work, college, crime, the draft. A young couple fresh out of college (""Pet Milk"") not only realize their rift with their ethnic pasts, but move uneasily into their long-repressed sexuality. Intimations of disillusionment and despair make these miraculous tales all the more resonant and real--a collection for the ages.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1990
ISBN: 0312424256
Publisher: Knopf