Night Swimming

Pete Fromm, Author Picador USA $23 (192p) ISBN 978-0-312-20936-0
One of the hapless teenage males in short story writer Fromm's latest collection (after Blood Knot) is deserted by his girlfriend, who believes he has raped her. As Fromm puts it, in ""Willowy-Wisps"": ""He thought of Margie racing down some road in the blackness, all alone herself, but with her face still that hard and blank, as if she'd been looking for just this solitude all her life."" A lot of the women in the 13 stories in this impressively crafted collection seem to be agitated by that same desire: the mother, in the Pushcart Prize-nominated title story, who is found frozen in the snow after escaping her nursing home; Abilene, the crazy daughter in ""How All This Started,"" who runs away without her beloved brother, Austin; and even Wendy, the small-town slut in ""Wind,"" who pathetically decides to use Kirk, the new boy in town, as a means to escape to the West Coast. Fromm's narrators, on the other hand, are mostly men of the staying kind, given to small disappointments and decencies. Sometimes, as teens, they fantasize about women, as the narrator in ""Gluttony"" fantasizes about Nancy, his boss's young wife; but when he has a chance to seduce her, he literally runs away. Mostly they grow up like the carpenter in ""The Raw Material of Ash,"" whose dream marriage to his wife and childhood sweetheart, Denise, deteriorates after he surrenders to a no-goal life of slapping together temporary coffins for crematoria. Fromm's stories are never flashy, and often they seem thought out rather than deeply felt, but like his male characters, they reveal odd flashes of insight. (Sept.) FYI: Fromm won the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award for his story collection, Dry Rain, and a memoir, Indian Creek Chronicles.
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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