My Hard Bargain

Walter Kirn, Author
Walter Kirn, Author Alfred A. Knopf $18.95 (145p) ISBN 978-0-394-58303-7
Reviewed on: 08/29/1990
Release date: 09/01/1990
A baker's dozen of short stories marks a disarming fiction debut by journalist Kirn. He reveals an American heartland where grandparents play along with TV game shows; Mormon missionaries go door-to-door, like Avon ladies, saving whole families; pesticides disable farmers; and healthy farmers go bankrupt. Kirn shines with his wicked but tough-minded portrayals of families as seen from their children's points of view (the narrator of the title story hears his father trying to appease his irate wife by calling her ``honey'': ``and though he said the last word sweetly, especially for a man so tall, she went on a rampage anyway''). Although a few stories here weaken the collection--``Paying My Calls,'' for example, is uncharacteristically heavy-humored--Kirn's wit is essentially infectious, and his powers with language are prodigious (``The Personality of Writing'' skewers English in a devastatingly deadpan tone). However, his strict identification with characters just short of adulthood and his cozy evocations of childhood may limit his appeal to readers of a 30-something age. (Sept.)
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