Breathe at Every Other Stroke: Stories

Robert Olmstead, Author
Robert Olmstead, Author Henry Holt & Company $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4162-0
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A novelist's sometimes lyrical, sometimes taut reminiscences of the summer of 1972 read very much like an appealing, slightly old-fashioned coming-of-age novel. It was the summer before Olmstead's senior year in high school, the summer he fell in love, the summer his alcoholic father lost his job, the summer his autocratic grandfather learned he would die of cancer. The setting is the grandfather's New Hampshire farm during the frantic-and sometimes comically irrational-preparations for getting the place in order for an aerial photograph. A few flashback memories-within-memories cover such things as a cow-buying trip to Canada and a hitch-hiking jaunt to his girlfriend's college campus in upstate New York. Flash-forwards suggest what will happen to most of the people involved. The lush and adjective-filled descriptions of Olmstead's first serious affair are lovingly rendered, but the book is strongest and most effective during its more austere moments, such as an evocative description of the finesse required to drive cows for their morning milking and a scene in which the author-with weary understanding-deals with his hungover father. With its remembered conversations and novelistic touches, this is a quietly moving adolescent memoir in the tradition of William Humphrey's powerful Farther Off from Heaven. (Apr.)
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