Kick in the Head: Stories

Steven Rinehart, Author
Steven Rinehart, Author Doubleday Books $22 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-49853-1
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-307-42652-9
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From childhood days at camp to barhopping nights as adults, men who do not want to grow up and women at least as peculiar find inventive ways to hurt each other in this quirky, affecting debut collection. ""On the sixth day of her hunger strike,"" the first of 12 short stories begins, ""Lydia Martinez entered my dreams and immediately died there."" The narrator of ""Make Me,"" Chris Bergman, is a high school science teacher torn between his ex-girlfriend, Pearl, an English teacher in love with a student named Gabriel, and Lydia, an alluring girl also pining away for Gabriel, her ex-boyfriend. As the alleged adults are drawn into the teenagers' hormonal crisis, Chris desperately tries to avoid disaster. In brittle language, alternately painful and humorous, Rinehart continues to feel out the blurred territory between innocence and precocious sexuality. In ""The Order of the Arrow,"" Bergman is a Boy Scout mesmerized by his tentmate, an outcast named Heitman, who sneaks out after curfew, proudly breaking the rules until the night he crashes the camp's great Indian initiation ceremony. Traditional symbols of manhood in this tale are transformed into emblems of modern ambiguity about male identity and authority. Returning in ""LeSabre"" to the theme of the adult child toddling precariously through life, Rinehart describes an insurance representative assuring a panicked customer that she can drive her car, addressing both her fears and his. ""There's no such thing as life insurance,"" the representative admits. For Rinehart's heroes, failure is familiar, almost comfortable. His stark prose is marked by understated humor, moments of drama, slapstick, satiric sketches of daily routine and precise detailing of internal distress. In applying chaos theory to the emotional life of modern men, he reveals with striking clarity their lingering failures and small triumphs. (May)
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