THE SPIRIT RETURNS

Richard Burgin, Author
Richard Burgin, Author . Johns Hopkins Univ. $13.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8018-6796-5
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Most of the characters in these 11 hard-edged stories fall well outside our culture's conception of normalcy. Lonely, damaged people who desire love and intimacy, they're doomed to thwart every opportunity for connection. The eponymous lonely traveler in the Pushcart Prize–winner "Miles" is drawn into a bizarre situation involving an abusive airport shuttle driver and the driver's sister. The traveler and the sister are both in desperate need but are constrained by the bizarre situation the shuttle driver creates. The odd, disquieting title story deals with an advertising copywriter who gets his jollies by jumping out of hiding places and frightening strangers. He meets a woman, a would-be victim, who joins him as a partner for an evening, but again the connection fizzles. "The Ignorant Girl" tells of a lonely man who almost develops a relationship with a battered woman, but eventually each goes their own desolate way. "The President's Party" concerns a young woman who may have just murdered her wealthy lesbian lover. She picks up a depressed young journalist, but thinks "she'd have to keep him for a while which would mean doing him a lot in all kinds of ways to keep him hooked until she got far enough away for a long enough time that she could finally dump him." Burgin (Fear of Blues Skies) writes crisp and intelligent dialogue and description, and he handles disconcerting situations with deadpan ease. Reminiscent of Mary Gaitskill's protagonists in Bad Behavior, his characters—alone, alienated, desolate and desperate—come alive on the page. (Nov. 1)

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