Stories in an Almost Classical Mode

Harold Brodkey, Author
Harold Brodkey, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24.95 (596p) ISBN 978-0-394-50699-9
Reviewed on: 09/01/1988
Release date: 09/01/1988
A voice all too rarely heard, Brodkey's exalted reputation is based on one collection of short stories published 30 years ago ( First Love and Other Sorrows ) and occasional stories that have appeared in magazines since that time. This collection of 18 stories, while perhaps slaking temporarily the thirst of Brodkey aficionados, will at the same time contribute to the excitement and speculation with which his novel in progress continues to be anticipated. These stories are freighted with a magnificence of language that reveals Brodkey's singular ability to convey the truth and complexity of a moment in time, frequently as seen through the eyes of a child. In ``On the Waves,'' an estranged father travels to Venice with his 7-year-old daughter, hoping to amuse her. But she is disappointed, telling him, ``Nothing here is sincere except the water.'' ' ``Innocence,'' is a powerful and raw narrative that is essentially about a single act of sexual intercourse, providing a sustained high level of purely sexual intensity with explicit and evocative language. Most of the more recent stories, including the title story and the hauntingly beautiful ``His Son, in His Arms, in Light, Aloft,'' are variations on the theme of an acutely sensitive young boy coming to consciousness in an adoptive household that is choked by the emotional cross-currents of a sick and angry mother, with whom he is deeply involved, and a more distant and inconsistent father. There is a delicacy and a sadness to Brodkey's exquisitely rendered narratives. The connecting thread that runs through these stories is an almost cinematic sense of overview, of witnessing, as though each scene has been chosen for the light it can throw on a larger whole that we can't quite see. For all the authority and vision evident in Brodkey's writing, taken together these stories have a tentative air about them, as though the author cannot commit himself to this vision, this version. The pleasure of reading Brodkey in this form is great, but the sureness of the sustained rhythm of a novel is where ultimately he will triumph. BOMC alternate (September)
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