From acclaimed novelist Hegi (The Vision of Emma Blau, 2000, etc.), 11 short stories: finely wrought fables with transcendent resolutions rather than the usual open-ended contemporary slices of life.
Using backdrops that range from Mexico to Germany, Hegi places her characters, who are seeking outcomes of one kind or another, in situations where they can find them. In the title story, a young seminarian with doubts about his calling finds fulfillment helping a recently widowed aunt renovate the family hotel (located near a shrine) so that each room’s décor reflects a particular saint. Another notable entry, “A Woman’s Perfume,” depicts a teenaged girl, on holiday in Venice with her recently divorced father, who learns the disturbing difference between pure romantic love and sensual desire when she’s befriended by an older woman and her music-loving but sexually chaste husband. In other distinguished stories, an elderly and terminally ill German woman carefully plans her suicide by drowning in Mexico (“Freitod”); a man fishing for marlin off the Baja realizes, as he frees a fish whose colors are more radiant than ever, that he cannot hold on to the wife who recently left him (“For Their Own Survival”); a mentally retarded boy heals a family rift in postwar Germany when he tries to help an uncle paint the fence that divides the warring relatives (“A Town Like Ours”); and watching a juggler joyfully plying his risk-taking trade enables a worried mother to appreciate her daughter’s courage in falling in love with a blind man (“The Juggler”). The least successful piece is the uneven, overlong “Lower Crossing,” in which a middle-aged woman living on the Spokane River with her sister understands when they must put their old dog to sleep “that what nurtures us will also sustain us at times of pain.”
A vivid imagination and luminous writing compensate for too-easy epiphanies.