A STAY BY THE RIVER by Susan Engberg


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Three or four of these 11 stories by the author of Pastorale (1982) gather enough sharpness and energy to achieve a life of their own; the others offer little that is fresh and much that is painfully hackneyed. In ""Morgan and Joanna,"" a woman returns to her hometown after a bungled love affair: the reader is introduced to the situation in the vacuous rhythms of genre romance that are to recur over and over in the pages that follow, condemning the stories to an inadvertant and cloying shallowness: ""She had glimpsed something vast and hopeful in her love for him""; ""she could only ask for time alone""; ""His skin burned in the cool air; his fingertips pulsed; his eyes saw what belonged to him."" Dependence on clich‚ harms the stories in other ways, reducing characters to a prefabricated thinness. As small examples of the fibers that weave the whole, a young husband in ""Boiling River"" has ""remarkable eyes, large, brown, and urgent""; another, in ""Household,"" has ""a smile. . .that had looped her in and stayed her heart where it could freely grow""; and at times, a trendy psychobabble insinuates itself on stage and smothers fresh thought or feeling (""I needed to know where his love was concentrated, where he would be willing to put himself""). In ""Common Happiness,"" however, much of the artificiality gets left behind, and, without the drone of platitudes, the characters are able to reveal lives that are convincing and compelling. ""A Daughter's Heart"" is a moving portrayal of a college girl who realizes that her parents don't need her as they once did, and ""Fourth Brother"" deftly shows the horror of a young woman's realization that she's married the wrong person--and is trapped within the confines of his life for good. Stories that are too often shallowly sentimental, false, and quiche-and-boutique trendy; but three that demonstrate capably something meaningful below the surface of life.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking