MY HARD BARGAIN by Walter Kirn


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A slim debut that collects 13 unsparing--and mostly undistinguished--stories about farmers, the Midwest, and Mormonism. Kirn's male adolescent protagonists usually find themselves somewhere along the road to religious apostasy. The chronic masturbator of ""Planetarium"" takes consolation in the orgiastic onanism of his basketball teammates, fellow Mormons who've confessed to their coach, who's also their bishop. In ""The New Timothy,"" disillusion spreads among the teen faithful when a Mormon boy returns from his mission in Korea a passionate Buddhist. And the young narrator of the title story senses something strange about his Mother's newfound piety as the family moves from the Midwest in search of prosperity in the Mormon-dominated Southwest. Somewhat different is ""Whole Other Bodies,"" a portrait of a family in breakdown and chaos who find peace when they are converted by bicycling missionaries. The decline of the family farm explains the odd behavior of the old man in ""On Set-Aside"" who hopes to start a petting farm on land the government pays to keep inactive; of the mocked midwesterner in ""Toward the Radical Church"" who has agreed to speak of his farm's failure to liberal churchgoers in N.Y.C.; of the young boy in ""The Steward"" who arms himself against possible intruders while his failed farmer dad travels on business; and most vividly of the brain-damaged narrator of ""The Personality of Writing"" who destroyed his mind taking farm-animal drugs. A midwesterner in England is a boorish dolt (""Paying My Calls""); but the urban malcontent of ""Continuous Breathing Relief,"" another displaced midwesterner, is a trenchant critic of his self-righteous girlfriend's New Age feminism. The funniest piece, ""A Satisfying Ride in the Country,"" is about a former child-genius (A Princeton Eng. Lit. grad ""with a minor in hallucinogens"") who flunks a cheesy home IQ test as an adult in N.Y.C. Apprentice-like method--with only occasional flashes of the type of plain wit we might expect from a former editor of Spy magazine.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf