Friday, April 30, 2021

Dodge Rose by Jack Cox

But great masses of accumulation. From where. Impossible to tell. The venereal flow of international bric a brac. Open sesame. Here we go again. Deliacious ecstasy oh it doesn't matter and refuse of an interminable bargain that sends you senselessly out of your depth even as it generates the very jetsam that keeps you floating on tides of junk dapped by dirty Kleenex drifting albums fold out star charts cigarette tins calendars empty perfume bottles bits of lead type terracotta picture frames torn up ferry time tables cameo heads playing cards needlework monogrammed gloves and combs and suitcases strings of beads and heaps and other. The spectacles she used to buy from the chemist, themselves a wonderful piece of work in the world's catalogue. Infinite seed. A list is nothing, details lost to view in their own ascendance save a glint from between the dark stacks of a microlith flake shard of creamware a pencil or a choker or a broken light bulb pharate still in the striped box a jade brooch at most a briefer stretch of turpiloquium.

Eliza comes to Sydney because her aunt Dodge Rose--an aunt she didn't even know she had--has died. She wants to live in the apartment that Dodge has left behind, alongside Maxine, who is Dodge's daughter or something like it. Maxine seems to have had led a cloistered life with Dodge, hoarding trash and helping with her incontinence, and she is entranced by Eliza, perhaps even enamored by her, which is a little weird, when you think about it. Together, they scheme how about how to secure Dodge's apartment and to live off what she has left behind, but they are baffled by the bureaucratic intransigence of Australian law, of the bank, of the appraisers and auctioneers.

Then, halfway through, Eliza and Maxine's storyline ends and the novel switches to the point of view of young Dodge--how young I could never quite figure out--living with her apartment with her parents many years before. These chapters are largely dialogue, overheard conversations between Dodge's parents and their friends. We see from Dodge's perspective the arrival into the household of another young person under circumstances that were never quite clear to me, a person referred to as "X" who I presume becomes Eliza's mother. In this way the novel becomes about two different female-female relationships: transgressive relationships that exist in opposition to the menacing and masculine worlds of commerce and law, and which refuse to accommodate labels, like "sisters" or "lovers" that might make them legible to us. It is about inheritance, also: what does Dodge possess that Maxine can inherit? Is her relationship with Eliza a kind of inheritance, unwittingly modeled on Dodge and X? When the furniture is auctioned off, will Dodge, in a sense, disappear?

Dodge Rose is the kind of novel you might label, with or without sneering, experimental, or perhaps avant-garde. Dodge writes without capitalization; both Dodge and Maxine are likely to pass from lucidity into incoherence and return again. The novel has a Joyce-like obsession with lists. There are long sections of unbroken jargon: first, delivered by a lawyer who provides an elaborate history of Australian property law instead of telling Maxine and Eliza how to recover the deed to the apartment; then again by a banker who does the same with, you know, bank stuff. These sections are quite literally unreadable. They do something quite recognizable, which is to replicate the mysterious impenetrability of the institutional forces that control so much of our lives. But do they need to do that for fifteen pages?

A lot of Dodge Rose just isn't open to comprehension. It ends with two pages of randomly typed letters meant to represent, I think, a kind of ecstasy to which the young Dodge has ascended. Sometimes the novel takes on the quality of Dadaist poetry, in which the words themselves become a kind of static image to be taken in on the page, but sometimes it seems dismissive and self-indulgent. It makes me feel like a philistine to say stuff like that, but it's true. Worse, its excesses don't seem challenging because they don't seem fresh: it's literally the same old nonsense. Dodge Rose can become stubbornly inert, without even the sense that there's something worth getting to behind the locked gate. Which is too bad, because when the novel is more or less legible, as with Maxine and Eliza's adventures trying to dispossess themselves, it has a terrific comic quality. I wish more of it had been like that.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Acolyte by Thea Astley

Sometimes I have thought in azurous moments of divination that perhaps I am Holberg's other self, his seeing self, and while I store up, programming into my giant Cyclops eye like a slave computer, he expends all his heart-pulse on interpretation. It could explain my bondage, which has all the transparency of cellophane but is a thousand times tougher.

Jack Holberg is a musical genius. Blind since shortly after his birth--he lost the use of his eyes thanks to the neglect of his parents, who allowed them to be infected by blowflies--he has become a famous pianist and composer. His works draw from classical sources as well as blues, rock-and-roll, barroom music, and like any good rock and roller, he has an entourage whose life is deeply entangled with his. Paul Vesper, the novel's narrator, leaves his middle-class engineering job to act as a kind of factotum to Holberg. He helps organize Holberg's flights of genius into compositions, but so does he cook dinner, run errands, and maintain the house where Holberg and his other hangers-on live in commune. But the line between admiration and resentment is quite thin, and Paul is tortured by his position:

Don't, listen, don't for one eyeball-searing second imagine this is going to be an analysis of the artist in angst. We're the ones--Bonnie, Faith, Vesper, Ilse, Hilda--who are the interesting cases, the fringe-dwellers in the suburbs of the great man's genius--any great man. Holberg is my cross and I'm nailed to him and you wonder why it is I don't wriggle off and walk away? The rips in the soft pads of my pander hands, perhaps. The rags of feet. I'm the mini-Jesus!

Holberg, it is true, can be quite cruel. As soon as Paul falls in love with Hilda, Holberg snatches her away from him, leaving him with his former lover (and Hilda's sister) Ilse. When Hilda is tortured by Holberg's infidelities, Holberg tosses her to Paul to mollify her in the bedroom. Holberg reveals to Ilse's husband that he, Holberg, is the true father of the man's child, leading the man to despair and suicide. People in Holberg's orbit have a way of getting hurt and dying, as if thrown into chaos by Holberg's own tempestuous moods and thrown against the rocks of his diffidence. And yet, like Paul, none of them can ever just get up and leave.

Blindness is a torture to Holberg, who is obsessed with his own inability to understand what people mean when they talk about colors. And yet blindness is the very thing that makes Holberg the musical genius he is, the thing that provides him with his compensatory talents. Then again it is blindness, too, Paul explains, that makes him cruel. Unable as he is to see the faces of the people around him, he cannot see the way they are tortured or distraught. Or perhaps being unable to see them affords a plausible deniability about such things: Paul, who knows Holberg better than anyone, begins to pick up that the composer's music is inscribed with secret messages that mock his entourage's despair and desperation. He seems not to notice, for example, that Hilda has taken to stumbling around the house with her eyes closed in order to understand him better, but his next opus imitates her broken, crashing gait. Paul, who knows Holberg better than anyone, can hear these things when no one else can.

Honestly, I sort of hated the prose style of The Acolyte. The snatches of Greek and Latin, the obscure vocabulary, the densely knotted sentences, they all seem so suffocating and pretentious. I could barely follow it at times. I wonder how much of this is an indication of Astley's style and how much is part of the voice of Paul, who is both suffocated and pretentious. I got pretty bad whiplash going from the repetitive plainness of Gerald Murnane to this prose, which is like being caught in a tangle of vines. Like Paul, at the end of The Acolyte I was rather happy just to get out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Stream System by Gerald Murnane

The map grew out of one simple proposition. I speak of it tactfully as a proposition, but it has always seemed self-evident to me. In all the world there has never been, there is not, and there will never be any such thing as time. There is only place. What people call time is only place after place. Eternity is here already, and it has no mystery about it; eternity is just another name for this endless scenery where we wander from one place to another.

Here is a sentence that is characteristic of the style of the stories of Gerald Murnane, a sentence which appears in the second paragraph of a story titled "Velvet Waters" and which is collected in a book called Stream System: "During the last two hours of the Saturday and the first two hours of the Sunday other persons walked on the footpath of the Lower Esplanade, but the other persons walked away and out of sight while the man who was walking up and down went on walking up and down until he was the only person walking on the footpath of the Lower Esplanade." It's all there: the resistance to giving the character a name, referring to him instead as "the man who was walking up and down," the long sentence nested with subordinate clauses, the curious flatness of the repetition, the language borrowed from, it seems, a newspaper story or a police report. If the sentence makes your eyes glaze over, you probably would not enjoy the 500+ pages of Murnane's short fiction, collected in a book the title of which is Stream System.

But I am reminded of a literary quotation I saw once that I won't be able to find again, the effect of which was, you can tell someone is a major new writer when their prose seems very ugly to us at first blush. The stiff, strange qualities of Murnane's prose are themselves like a puzzle: what's this guy up to? Similarly, the stories themselves--plotless, guileless--present a kind of inertness that seems less like a flaw and more like a challenge.

Take, for instance, the title story, "Stream System." The narrator of the story--who goes unnamed, but whose biographical details as presented in the story seem much like the writer himself--begins by standing in front of a pair of marshy lakes indicated on his map of the greater Melbourne area as "Stream System." The shape of these lakes--both in real life and on the page of the map--bring to his mind a squished human heart, a golden pendant as seen in a catalogue as a child, and the mustache of his grandfather. These similarities are something more than coincidence and something less than epiphany; the web of connections they present is the subject, rather than merely the method of the story. Murnane describes this imagistic method this way: 

He had come to believe that he was made up mostly of images. He was aware only of images and feelings. The feelings connected him to the images and connected the images to one another. The connected images made up a vast network. He was never able to imagine this network as having a boundary in any direction. He called the network, for convenience, his mind.

In that passage, Murnane attributes this notion to a fictional character, who is no doubt a version of himself, a notion that provides the key to understanding the "implied author," another term which he uses frequently. The stories talk often about themselves; they describe their own construction, and yet you wouldn't say that the lines between fiction and reality are blurred here, as you might with some of the modernists who are clearly Murnane's biggest influences. These stories announce themselves as fiction, but in doing so reject the notion that they are somehow less real than the "real world." "I have always been interested in what is usually called the world," Murnane writes, "but only insofar as it provides me with evidence for the existence of another world." This "other world" is the network of images, which is called by Murnane's stand-in, "for convenience, his mind."

The exploration of these image-networks, which one might call a mind, often takes the form of a map. In the excerpt that begins this review, Murnane rejects time as a way of understanding. His stories seem to lack plot because plot is too time-dependent, but the unfolding of these images is geographical. They appear as maps of fictional places, as in the excellent "The Interior of Gaaldine," about a man--again, who seems to resemble Murnane--who is asked to read a 2,000 page masterpiece which scrupulously records thousands of fictional horse races on a fictional island that resembles Tasmania. Similarly, the young protagonist of "As It Were a Letter," living on the grounds of an experimental commune, spends his time making a crude model of a fictional commune in the forest.

What's funny about these stories is that Murnane is quite clear, perhaps obsessively so, about his methods. One story describes a creative writing professor who extemporizes to his students about an image that appears in his mind, and then the image that image provokes, and so on, and then places his recorded versions of each of these in one of many colored folders. This might be a fictionalized version of Murnane's methods, but maybe not exaggeratedly so. In the charming "Stone Quarry," he describes an almost certainly fictional writers' retreat whose attendants are not allowed to speak to each other, but who must encode their messages to each other in the pieces of fiction they write. I don't suppose that Murnane is the first person to wonder how the process of writing a piece of fiction might be inscribed into the writing itself, but there's an earnestness or openness to the way he does it that is remarkable.

For me, Murnane's strange methods are most successful in the very first story, "When the Mice Failed to Arrive":

In earlier years I had always understood my son's signs as telling me that he was a mouse at heart. He was telling me that he was smaller than other children and made weak by his asthma. When I made my own signs in return in those years, I was telling my son that I recognised his mouseness and that I would never forget to put into his saucer each day a little heap of rolled oats and a cube of bread spread with vegemite and a scrap of lettuce, or to put a heap of torn paper into a corner of his cage when nights turned chilly.

There are comparatively few metafictional tricks in this story, no obvious analogue for the author and no attempt to write into the story the process of writing the story. But the network of images, the unfolding of a mind, is striking: the narrator connects his son's self-conscious "mouseness" with a memory of raising, then drowning, a crop of experimental mice in his closet as a child. These images stand next to each other and do not need explaining or analyzing; the story seems to discourage us from coming to a conclusion like The narrator is worried that his son is as vulnerable as the drowned mice or The narrator worries that he will not be able to care for his son. Those readings may be fair and true, but it is the leap from one image to the next that enriches the story, and not any secretive meaning they might produce. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Well by Elizabeth Jolley

Hester, from her upbringing, knew that in matters of life and death common sense prevailed, especially in the country. Often something had to die so that something else could live and flourish. Like rotten fruit discarded, the dead man at the bottom of the well was not her concern.

The Well--the second in the set of Australian books I'm reading this month, after Patrick White's Happy Valley--is about an aging spinster, Hester Harper, and her live-in companion, Katherine. Hester is an old homesteader who has never been interested in men; Katherine is a typical young person in love with American films and film stars, yet their arrangement works well: Hester dotes on Katherine, whom she sees as a student and ward, and the orphan Katherine thrives in the cloisters of Hester's home. When Hester, on the advice of an old friend, sells her farm and retires with Katherine to a small outbuilding on her former property, the two become even more entangled.

Hester worries constantly about the possibility that Katherine will tire of her and leave her friendless and without property, yet the arrangement seems robust until one night, coming back from a party with Hester, Katherine hits something, or someone, in the middle of the night with her car. Hester and Katherine take the body--which we are never really permitted to see--and dump it in the well behind their home. Only later does Hester learn that the money she has been hiding in her hat has disappeared, presumably with the thief in the well. This scenario forces a sudden wedge between Hester and Katherine: first, when Katherine refuses to be lowered into the well by a rope to find the money on the dead man's corpse, and then when Katherine begins to insist that the man below is not dead at all, but alive and confessing his love to her.

Has the shock broken Katherine's brain? Or is Hester the one who is broken, refusing to hear the cries of the man below? The Well declines to answer these questions, at least to answer them without ambiguity. The novel never tells us with certainty whether the man is alive or dead, or even whether it was really a man at all. I guess you'd call it a psychological thriller, one of those books whose interest lies in the effects, destabilizing to the psyche and which reduce us to our most primal motives, of great violence. The single most chilling moment in the text might be when Katherine, begging Hester for groceries to feed the man in the well, produces a hundred dollar bill, saying he had sent it up from what he had stolen in a basket. Is Katherine a crazy liar who has stolen the money? Or is she telling the truth? I would have liked to have clearer answers to these questions, quite honestly, or perhaps for the ambiguities to be disposed of in a way that is more satisfying. But they are certainly gripping.

At times, The Well seemed to me a little padded, as if it were milking the main incident by offering lengthy portraits of Hester's inner psychological state. That's probably a little unfair; we come to understand from Hester's memories that her childhood love for her German governess--who betrayed her by carrying, then miscarrying, her father's child--provides the template for her possessiveness over Katherine, and casts it as explicitly queer. The man in the well, then, represents the lurking suitor, the man waiting in the subterranean unknown to emerge and steal Katherine away. He might represent much of what we bury underground, hoping it won't emerge again, fearing that it will.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Happy Valley by Patrick White

All this was taking place in Happy Valley the same autumn, which was superficially the same as any other autumn, as far as its natural details were concerned. But as I have said before, one of the most noticeable features of Happy Valley was its apparent remoteness from the human element, or perhaps an ironical half-recognition, laying a trap in the shape of its own activities and then letting things slide. Autumn was a season of preliminary cold and suppressed winds. Nothing much appeared to happen besides, though a lot was really happening all the time. Because it was at this moment that Amy Quong felt those dormant and really frightening passions begin to stir, that Clem Hagan was coming into town of an afternoon and going to Moriarty's house, that Moriarty felt things closing in, all those eyes and faces at the school, and Sidney Furlow was trying to suppress the realization of her own desires. They each had their own problem, and nobody else had theirs, which is only natural perhaps, it is usually like that. And all the time Happy Valley was preparing for winter, and those that were afraid of winter had begun to be afraid, which those who have not experienced Happy Valley in winter-time will certainly not understand. If you have you will know, you will realize the extreme brutality to which man can be subjected, whatever you may have experienced of this, of brutality I mean, in winter at Happy Valley it seems to be epitomized.

Happy Valley is a remote sheep farming outpost in New South Wales, where the winters are particularly harsh and the people, it may not surprise you to find out, are not particularly happy. "I often think," says the debutante Sidney Furlow to her family's hired man Clem Hagan, "it'd be rather fun to blow out one's brains." Some of the people in Happy Valley, like the doctor's wife Hilda Halliday or the doctor's mistress Alys Browne, have convinced themselves that Happy Valley themselves is the source of their unhappiness, that perhaps they can leave their unhappiness behind if they can leave Happy Valley behind. They make plans to move to Queensland, or to California, but what ails them, White suggests, is simply what ails most people in the world: that all human beings are essentially alone. The doctor himself, Oliver Halliday, describes it this way:

I dare say most of us are afraid, he said. Not of the same things perhaps. We start off being afraid of the dark. Then your fear probably moves its centre to something more tangible. And most of it rises out of a feeling of being alone. Being alone is being afraid. perhaps one day we'll all wake up to the fact that we're all alone, that we're all afraid, and then it'll just be too damn silly to go on being afraid.

This is one of White's Big Themes: that life is really what goes on in people's heads, and that it is rare, perhaps even impossible, to make that life known outside of one's own skull. It's rare to see a character state the idea so plainly, and though Halliday's words seem rather wise to me, I wonder if White himself is so sanguine about the idea that we will one day "all wake up to the fact that we're all alone," and that this will be somehow meaningful.

The story of Happy Valley is the story of intersecting love affairs: Halliday and Alys Browne, the piano teacher; the rough jackaroo Clem Hagan and the teacher's wife Vic Moriarty; Clem Hagan and Sidney Furlow. I suppose you can throw in the relationship between Halliday's nine year old son Rodney and Margaret Quong, the thirteen year old daughter of the Chinese Grocer. (Interesting to see White depict Chinese characters, whom the Happy Valley bigots invariably call "Chows," but race hovers at the edges of a lot of White's work, as with the Aboriginal man and refugee Jew who make up two of the protagonists in Riders in the Chariot.) White is so skilled at depicting the passion of love, constructed from materials wholly within one's own psyche and which seems to have little to do with the beloved at all. All of these affairs are open secrets, more or less, and yet knowledge of each pales in comparison with the intensity of it as lived.

These separate affairs collide at the novel's end in a way that is both macabre and satisfying, though perhaps a little neat for the novelist that White would become. According to the jacket copy, White never allowed Happy Valley, his first novel, to be republished while he was alive. I wonder what about it evoked his displeasure; his uncanny style seems to emerge almost wholly intact to me, though I don't find the novel as engaging as some of his others. There is a reliance here on unpunctuated bursts stream-of-consciousness that reveals White's indebtedness to Joyce (Happy Valley isn't even two decades separated from Ulysses) but which he seems to have later abandoned. And there's little of the unnerving physicality of his later novels, the gross materiality, that anchors their psychic qualities and provides their essential irony. But already in Happy Valley one can see the sui generis style that White would produce for another fifty years.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark

Tom often wondered if we were all characters in one of God's dreams. To an unbeliever this would have meant the casting of an insubstantiality within an already insubstantial context. Tom was a believer. He meant the very opposite. Our dreams, yes, are insubstantial; the dreams of God, no. They are real, frighteningly real. They bulge with flesh, they drip with blood. My own dreams, said Tom to himself, are shadows, my arguments--all shadows.

I briefly thought that this was the last of Muriel Spark's novels that I had yet to read. What a bittersweet moment that would have been! It would have been gratifying, then, to find that Reality and Dreams is so fun, in the mordant way that only Spark's novels can be fun, and that it begins with a sentence that is so much like her as this one: "He often wondered if we were all characters in one of God's dreams."

Nearly all of Spark's novels are about this, about control, about free will. Her characters are always seeking it--control--over themselves and others, sometimes finding it, other times finding it elusive. But it's always the writer, like God, who really has it, always Spark. In this case, the protagonist, Tom Richards, is not an author but a director, another God-like figure who, through his films, exerts a kind of control over reality. That control is to some extent illusory, because what's on the screen is an invention, but in other ways it is very real: Tom controls the lives and livelihoods of all his actors and crew, and to be cast or not cast is life-changing. In his real life, Tom is always casting, imagining the roles for which his acquaintances and loved ones would be most certain. As the novel begins, however, Tom has just fallen from a crane while filming, leaving him hobbled and--for once--helpless. A reminder, maybe, of who is in control of reality and who is in control only of dreams.

One of the motifs in Reality and Dreams is redundancy. This is a particularly British term, I think, that means someone has been found unnecessary at their job, and therefore sacked. To be found redundant, as many of the supporting characters do, is to be found unnecessary to the plans of those in control, whether God or otherwise. To be redundant is to lose control and to be erased. It's Tom's sour and unattractive daughter Marigold who finds the way out of redundancy by disappearing on purpose. (In this she reminded me of characters in both The Driver's Seat and The Public Image, who stage elaborate suicides as exertions of control, but Marigold is too nasty to obliterate herself permanently.) In Marigold's absence, Tom, who has never liked her ("She is nemesis in drag," Tom thinks, "She is the Last Judgment..."), begins to at last find her irreplaceable, and finally invents a part for her: an ancient Druid who can see the future. Another fantasy of godliness, maybe--imagined omniscience to go with imagined omnipotence.

Compare Marigold to Jeanne, the doomed waif cast in the other of Tom's two projects. The movie is based on a fantasy Tom had, seeing a beautiful girl making hamburgers at a campsite, he imagines a wealthy benefactor bestowing millions upon her without identifying himself. Jeanne is cast as the hamburger girl (in what is briefly and hilariously titled The Hamburger Girl), but her role is small, fleeting; she doesn't understand that the role is only a fantasy and wants desperately to make it real. Unlike Tom, who is satisfied with the power he has in dreams, Jeanne needs the film to become true, for dreams to become reality, and to receive the munificence of stardom. That Jeanne, increasingly strung out, begins to mix up reality and dreams is the fount of her tragedy.

It seems likely that this was Spark's final really good novel. She only wrote two more in her lifetime, both of which felt too hollowed out to me: Aiding and Abetting and The Finishing School. I'll come back to them someday, I'm sure; I wouldn't be surprised if they have charms that escaped me. Spark's novels are always a little jagged, a little elusive. They have the air of someone who doesn't want to be pinned down, and who knows she holds all the cards. It's powerful to be an artist, as Dame Muriel knew. But it's an illusory power, to be used like a plaything, and to forget where real power lies is dangerous. You can climb the crane but you can't make anything happen from up there, and you run the risk of falling.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake

Hunched on his knees in the three-foot seam, Buddy was lost in the rhythm of the truck mine's relay; the glitter and coal and sandstone in his cap light, the setting and lifting and pouting. This was nothing like the real mine, no deep tunnels or man-trips, only the setting, lifting, pouring, only the light-flash from the caps in the relay. In the pace he daydreamed his father lowering him into the cistern: many summers ago he touched the cool tile walls, felt the moist air from the water below, heard the pulley squeak in the circle of blue above. The bucket tin buckled under his tiny feet, and he began to cry. His father hauled him up. "That's the way we do it," he laughed, carrying Buddy to the house.

At the Billy Motel in Davis, West Virginia--the highest town in the Mountain State, and a little enclave of hillbilly hipsters--every room boasts a copy of The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake in the place of the Gideon Bible. I had brought my own, a funny happenstance, but not quite a coincidence, given the nature of these stories: their scrupulous invocation of the West Virginia hollows, where homes abide in such brief daylight, the love and shame they bear toward the lives of labor West Virginians lead, of farming and coal mining and cockfighting.  The characters of these stories dream of getting away; they don't yet know what Pancake knew, that you can never get away from your home, that you carry with you, with all its contradictions. I wonder what Pancake would have thought about a twee place like the Billy Motel.

To a traveler who hasn't yet opened the book, Pancake's name must seem in keeping with the wryness and whimsy of the Motel. But the stories are not whimsical, not at all: they are quite dreary. The first story "Trilobites" sets the tone: the protagonist Colly faces down a failing farm, a mother he cannot take care of, a girlfriend who despises him. His mother encourages him to sell the farm and follow her to Akron, go to college, but such a thing is barely conceivable to Colly, who feels tied to the ancient mountains, where the title fossils are found: "I like to hold little stones that lived so long ago," he tells us. The beautiful spareness of that sentence is emblematic of these stories, which hum in the human register of the West Virginia working class. It's hard not to see in Colly the anxieties of Pancake himself, who wrote these stories while working not in the coal mines but in the University of Virginia's English program. Did Pancake--who committed suicide after the publication of this handful of stories--know what Colly only suspected, that our lives are in their way inescapable, no matter where we go?

I don't know if these stories are sequenced according to when they were written, but I felt they grew only stronger as the collection progressed. They all share the basic elements as "Trilobites," but within them Pancake explores a great range of the disaffected: the embittered miner of "Hollow," the woman in "The Way it Has to Be" who knows she lacks the strength to leave her violent lover, the young mechanic of "Fox Hunters" who resents the sour bigotries of the men who pretend to be older and wiser. Pancake's characters often do more wandering and remembering than acting, a trait that can lead to stiffness, but I was enchanted by "The Honored Dead," a story about a man troubled by the guilt over his friend's death in Vietnam. And the best story might be "In the Dry," about a man who returns to visit a foster family to which he never quite belonged, years after the car crash which crippled a natural son:

He walks the darkening fields alone. Heat lightening flashes, and he hears the slow drone of locusts cooling in the trees. He wonders how many deer have died in all the winter snows, how many mice have become the dirt. Walking the fencerow, Ottie knows Bus owns this farm, and has sealed it off in time where he can live it every day. And Otie sees them together a last time: a dying dog and two useless children, forever ghosts, they can neither scream nor play; even dead, they fight over bones.

So much goes unstated in this wonderful story: How does the patriarch, Old Gerlock, feel about Ottie's return? What are the feelings of his foster sister, with whom he shared a passionate kiss long ago? And what is Ottie trying to accomplish by coming back to this place he had forsaken? The influence of Hemingway haunts these stories, in not just the spareness of the language but the conception of a story as an iceberg, in which everything that lies beneath the surface buoys what is above. For Pancake, a better metaphor might be a West Virginia hill, where seams of valuable coal are buried too deep to pry into the open.