HELL-BENT MEN AND THEIR CITIES by Susan Dodd

HELL-BENT MEN AND THEIR CITIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fifteen stories front Dodd (No Earthly Notion, 1986; Mamaw, 1988), most often with a ring of the writerly-and-accomplished yet standard to them. The title piece, about an affair between a plain-living woman who lives in the country and a power-driven art dealer who lives in the city, tries to escape the tropes of magazine romance but remains lightheaded and breathy in its reach for significance (""His eyes, the color of cola with tiny pinpoints of light like fizz, washed over her face and made it tingle""). Dodd rather expertly tries on Donald Barthelme's arch-satiric greatcoat for size (""The Great Man Writes a Love Story""), but her success is more in form than in substance, as it is also in the Carver/Beattie-syndromed ""Don't Get Around Much Anymore"" (the can't-talk-about-it-directly despair of an out-of-work construction man and his family). Death becomes a crux for stories, sometimes effectively and sometimes with a stagy intrusiveness: grown daughters attend to their failing or dying fathers in ""Sinatra,"" ""Nightlife,"" and ""Subversive Coffee""; the friendship of two old family men, one Jewish and one Gentile, ends with the snatching-away death of one of them (""Bifocals""); and the Salinger-colored ""Higher Mathematics"" is pummeled at end into a TV-drama-significance by the wedding-day death of a handsome and aging bridegroom. Graceful moments and a light and observant touch make their appearances in these pieces, but Dodd descends as often into the undercooked and sometimes outright maudlin--as in ""I'm Right Over There,"" about a widower who falls in love with his beautiful and long-suffering neighbor but says nothing to her; ""Homage"" (a callow young man wants oh-so-desperately to write); and the cute-lyric ""Undeniably Sweet Talk"" (writer-to-be marries cabinetmaker). Occasionally mellow in palate, more often in need of longer aging.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking