Torrid Zone:: Seven Stories from the Gulf Coast

Jonathan Maslow, Author
Jonathan Maslow, Author Random House (NY) $25 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-40876-5
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
Hardcover - 978-0-517-30215-6
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The discerning eye and lively tongue that naturalist and adventurer Maslow has brought to his well-received nonfiction (Sacred Horses, 1994, etc.) seem enfeebled in his initial foray into fiction. Flitting scattershot across four centuries, this baroque collection whimsically examines exotic geographies and quaint denizens--real and imaginary--of the Gulf shores. Each of the seven stories here depends upon the uninspired use of long monologues, journal entries or personal letters. Maslow's narrators, however, are unexpected, and often winsomely odd. The opening yarn, ""The Last Lector,"" recalling a Depression-era class struggle, is told by an octogenarian leaf-wrapper at a Tampa cigar factory; the next story, a lamenting of libidinous vagaries, is narrated by a professional mermaid at a Weekee Watchee water show. Maslow's other storytellers include the celebrated Seminole warrior Osceola (""Prince Hamlet of the Florida Territory"") and Jean Lafitte, the chimerical freebooter who, by his account here, single-handedly enabled Andrew Jackson to deliver New Orleans from the British (""The Journal of Jean Lafitte, Corsair""). The briefest of the tales, ""Africatown, Children,"" reveals the fate of the slaves on the last slave ship to reach America, while ""The Healer,"" set in 1528 and told by a blackamoor slave, offers a tedious parody of Don Quixote. For the most part, these quasi-mythological insights into history, personality and landscape are charmingly imagined, but--with the welcome exception of the closing story, ""White Cranes,"" about the magical adventure of a Vietnam amputee--they suffer from repetitions and pointless peregrinations. (Apr.)
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