Living to Be a Hundred: Stories

Robert Boswell, Author
Robert Boswell, Author Alfred A. Knopf $20 (190p) ISBN 978-0-679-43063-6
Paperback - 190 pages - 978-0-06-097631-6
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The protagonists of nine of the 11 short stories in this impressive collection by the author of Mystery Ride are sad, disillusioned middle-aged men looking back at the brief time when their lives seem to have had wonder and promise, and realizing that everything went downhill after ``one perfect moment.'' Most of them have had hardscrabble lives, sometimes the result of childhoods spent with fathers who are failures themselves, as in the affectingly elegiac ``Glissando.'' Now, like the narrator of ``The Good Man,'' they are ``consumed by the sweet pain of longing'' that can never be assuaged. The tales explore the mistakes, humiliations, mysteries (especially the nature of love) and the reasons why ``my life had turned wrong.'' Most of them are set in hot desert towns of the Southwest, and the scorching climate intensifies the protagonists' searing epiphanies. The title story begins with an incident that shows the narrator ``what little it took to throw your life off, to turn it upside down,'' and progresses, during the course of a sizzling heat wave, to a shocking but inevitable climax. The man who narrates ``The Earth's Crown'' discovers that ``there are ten thousand ways to ruin your life, a million ways to lose the people you love.'' ``Grief,'' told from a woman's point of view, has the feel of a Greek tragedy, with a surprising twist at the end. In the mesmerizing ``Salt Commons,'' an ordinary man is taken hostage by a deranged woman and regrets all the things he has never experienced; the narrator of ``The Products of Love'' understands--too late--``that love is more important than happiness.'' Though the collection suffers somewhat from a certain sameness of theme, Boswell's tales are gracefully written and often haunting. (Mar.)
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