THE WEDDING CAKE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD: 23 Variations on a Theme by Susan & George Garrett--Eds. Stamberg

THE WEDDING CAKE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD: 23 Variations on a Theme

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KIRKUS REVIEW

National Public Radio personality Stamberg, along with novelist Garrett, got the bright idea to have 23 writers--Richard Bausch, Ann Beattie, Madison Smartt Bell, Stuart Dybek, and a host of others--work independently of each other on a story that incorporates the title image. The resulting anthology--some of these stories were first read on NPR--is more a novelty item than a worthy dive into contemporary fiction. Dybek's ""I Never Told This to Anyone"" is a touching fabulism about ""a little bride and groom"" who ""would come to visit me at night,"" though it's more self-conscious and mannered than Dybek's better work; Charles Baxter's ""Possum"" is an amusing dialogue story, mostly between a sister and her younger brother; Kelly Cherry's title story is a delicate but all-too-brief prose poem; Bausch's ""Tandolfo, the Great,"" about a clown who loses his cool at a birthday party for a five-year-old, is clever but forced; Beattie's ""Picture Perfect"" is a slight present-tense account that combines Virginia Woolfian lyricism and some notes (one character is a photographer) on perspective. The three most affecting tales--in their own right, not as variations on a theme--are Al Young's ""The Subliminal Cakewalk Breakdown,"" in which a narrator, forced to leave the California freeway, breaks down at a zany, surreal truck-stop and becomes involved in the lives he finds there; Bell's ""Pawnshop,"" about a narrator at said pawnshop who must deal with a junkie friend and with his own conscience; and Mary Lee Settle's ""Dogs,"" an evocative southern reminiscence. Stamberg tells us she came to this idea after having writers concoct first a chain novel and then a chain mystery. Such ideas make sense to fill air time, but aren't particularly worth memorializing in a gimmicky book like this.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton