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by Tess Gallagher

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-82693-3
Publisher: Scribner

A solid, if sometimes conventional, second collection (after The Lover of Horses, 1986) by poet Gallagher. The 16 tales here are alive with intriguing characterizations, though several suffer from listless plots and excessive detail. Many of the pieces focus on the emotional repercussions of losing a loved one (Gallagher was married to Raymond Carver). In the amusing ``My Gun,'' a recent widow is forced to deal with hitherto unexpected elements in her husband's past. Her droll meditations on whether or not to buy a gun for protection are interwoven with her narrative of shocked discoveries. Another quirky tale on the nature of widowhood, ``Mr. Woodriff's Neckties,'' describes the mannerly relationship between Mr. Woodriff, a famous novelist dying of cancer, and his next-door neighbor, whose wife also has the disease. Told with sweetness and a pragmatic attitude toward life and death, the story revolves around the small acts of kindness between the two men (like when the neighbor knots a tie for Mr. Woodriff, who never learned how), deftly probing the nature of charity. ``Rain Flooding Your Campfire'' offers a clever play on narrative consistency when the narrator's version of events (the visit of recently widowed friend Norman) challenges Mr. G's story. She and Mr. G work together at the gas company, though Mr. G is actually a failed novelist, looking for material from wherever he can find it, so that Norman, who is blind, offers great grist for Mr. G`s mill. Outshining Mr. G`s quirkiness is ``The Poetry Baron'' (as he likes to think of himself)—a middle-aged English professor with Napoleonic delusions and the quintessential roving eye. Many of the stories are distinguished by a meditative, sometimes somber, humor. A worthwhile collection, then, with a few failed tales, focusing on the simple patterns and complex relationships of everyday life.