Email this review


Twelve very short stories (85 pp. in all), combining--to little effect--a trendy, fiat/ folksy sort of delivery (cf. Mary Robison et al.) with quirky bits of odd behavior or insight. About half of the pieces are just anecdotal fragments: a narrator, dissatisfied with life, muses on Judgment Day while his wife wins a lottery; a lonely farmer resists the impulse to suicide, embodied in the voice of his dead grandfather, who hanged himself in the barn; in the title vignette, which unsuccessfully strains (like several of the entries) for a Raymond Carver-style metaphor, the narrator's ne'er-do-well brother-in-law is arrested for drunken driving. But even when the stories are longer or more elaborate, Ferguson's ideas remain thin or jittery, never strongly developed. In ""Scherzo with TV Antenna,"" a college girl--unstable yet vapid--addresses her supposed lover, a married professor now confined to a mental institution. ""The Claims Adjuster"" is a neurotic, fearful narrator strolling through a park near his suburban home--feeling threatened by Native American demonstrators, soldiers. in-training, mental-institution inmates. Another disturbed narrator, supposedly a musician-in-residence at a summer festival, instead spends his time in fantasies of political/sexual involvement. ""The Teacher"" is the longest piece: a professor's recollection of a grad student who was killed (by the CIA?) while assisting revolution in Central America--with heavyhanded twists and messages. But only one story here is moderately engaging even as a sketch: the narrator's view of a neighbor-musician named ""Morrissey""--a minor talent whose doomed life was built on a ""monstrous triple negative."" (""He simply wanted to avoid giving people the impression that he was incapable of growth and change. . . ."") And, despite sporadic glimmers of humor or shrewd observation, this is a frail, unformed debut collection--without even the distinctive voice that made Janet Kauffman's comparable sketch-book (Places in the World a Woman Could Walk, p. 1104) modestly promising.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Knopf