MADNESS IN THE FAMILY: Stories by William Saroyan


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Though Saroyan's nonfiction pieces, large (Obituaries) and small (Chance Encounters), arrived in book-form regularly through his last decades, his short stories of the 60's and 70's--originally published in The Atlantic, Harper's, The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies Home Journal--have not until now been collected. Here, then, are the 17 ""best of these later stories,"" a grouping that's slight, rather spotty, but often very much alive with Saroyan's earthy, rueful, utterly distinctive magic. Several characteristic tales present wry glimpses of Armenian family-life in early 20th-century Fresno. Saroyan's alter ego, painter Bashmanian. recalls his crazy immigrant-uncles--one a cheerful arsonist, the other obsessively waiting for some relative to die (so the family can literally put down roots). ""The Inscribed Copy of the Kreutzer Sonata"" features the rocky engagement between intellectual, spiritual Gaspar Bashmanian (a cousin) and vulgar, practical, beautiful Roxie Apkarian. And ""Cowards"" profiles, with deep empathy, WW I draft-dodger Kristophor Agbadashian (""Cowards are nice. . .They want to live, so they can see their kids. They're very brave""). More striking, however, are stories in which famous artist Bashmanian--or a hero who's even more transparently autobiographical--contemplates his fragile domestic life, with uncommon tenderness for his children. In ""Gaston,"" the father shares this unconventional earthiness with his six-year-old daughter--who's soon swept back into the fastidious clutches of the estranged wife. ""Picnic Time"" and ""Lord Chugger of Cheer"" conjure up the aggressive, buoyant charm of a son at ages four and five. In ""Twenty is the Greatest Time in Any Man's Life,"" the father offers unconditional love and offhand wisdom to his son--now a confused dropout. And the fact that these may all be idealized self-portraits--real-life son Aram has been a hostile biographer--only makes Saroyan's bittersweet recollection more poignant. Overall, then: a so-so Saroyan sampler, filled out with tiny anecdotes and fables--but always flavorsome and sometimes wrenching in its bold sentimentality.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1988
Publisher: New Directions