MONKEYS by Susan Minot


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You can hear the voices of the masters--the descriptive economy of Hemingway, the imaged delicacy of Virginia Woolf, and, above all, the informing echo of J.D. Salinger (darkness and breakdown lurking just under a middle-class things-as-usual surface)--in these spare, carefully wrought, and often moving stories. A rather well-off family in Massachusetts with seven children (the ""monkeys"" of the title) has a father who drinks too much, a mother who dies in a car accident, and a future that somehow must be lived. In ""Hiding,"" earliest of these chronological pieces, mother and children ""hide"" from Dad (in an upstairs closet) only to find, rather shakenly, that he doesn't come look for them, but turns on the TV. ""Thanksgiving Day"" shows grandparents entering senility and despair after lives that were once, it seems, exotic and rich. ""Allowance"" takes the family to a Bermuda vacation, where Dad is worred about ""things at the bank,"" drinks too much, empties a glass of water over his head at the restaurant table. ""Wildflowers,"" tugging heartstrings to the danger point, shows the death of an infant, the birth of another. ""Party Blues,"" the one real failure in the volume, tackles adolescent love, inflates it beyond what it can bear, and falls flat. Dad's drinking is handled with a similar overdramatization in ""The Navigator,"" as is, but more forgivably, a son's acting out of grief in ""Accident."" ""Wedlock"" (beautifully) sketches the first Christmas after the mother's death; ""Thorofare"" is the scattering of her ashes at sea. The risk of a mere fashionableness is here, in the peculiarly ""literary"" quality of aesthetic contentedness while studying, purportedly, the manifestations and effects of half-nameless but pervasive anxiety and fear. Much, though, in the stories is tone-perfect, and much, escaping convention, will bring moments of recognition to readers, and feeling. Four pieces have appeared in Grand Street, three in The New Yorker.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1986
ISBN: 0375708367
Publisher: Dutton