CONTENDERS: Short Stories by the American Book Awa by Terence Winch

CONTENDERS: Short Stories by the American Book Awa

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While some of the dialogue in these nine minimalist tales about Irish musicians and neurotic couples is amusing, little of it leads anywhere--which is the fate of the lives Winch chronicles. At best, Winch (winner of the 1986 A.B.A. award for Poetry) offers passages that are pleasantly evocative of a subculture that still lives as though it were the 1960's. In the long, wearing title story, a musician visits a woman and initiates a rocky affair that includes lots of relationship-chatter ("Let's try again. . .I don't want to lose you"; "I'm not sure I can give you what you want"). It's a yawn, a photo-album of instances that never transcend their occasion. More successful is "The Age of Transition," about Janet Ross (an actress, descendant of Betsy) and Willie, a bohemian who thrives on worry, longs "for the days of Richard Nixon" and smokes pot every day. Janet is always preoccupied--learning lines--and Willie, even when he declares his love, is tentative and anxious. "Acts of Resistance," also amusing, is about a man who decides to quit smoking. Of the rest, each has an insight, a laugh, but no momentum: in "Smartass," a group of pals, drank after a wedding on the wrong side of town, run into a little street trouble, and the narrator loses his mandolin; in "Fidelity," a pregnant married woman meets an old flame who still loves her, but they agree that they now live in "two different countries"; in "Trigger Response," more instances of a troubled relationship and uncertain commitment center on the last day of 1969 ("The Night the Sixties Ended"), arguments about Bob Dylan's voice, and pot laced with angel dust; "Control" finishes the book with drunken bar conversations about the culture's loss of innocence. Too often these stories are merely personal, but occasionally a passage resonates with nostalgia transformed into baby-boom angst.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1989
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