Theaters of the Heart and Mind

Alice Barter, Author
Alice Barter, Author Creative Arts Book Company $13.5 (128p) ISBN 978-0-88739-124-8
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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The seven stories of this mixed first collection by retired English teacher Barter walk a fine line between simplicity and banality, revealing dramatic conflicts through overfreighted, broadly brushed details. Barter is not afraid of high-stakes story lines. In ""How Do I Love Thee?"" a husband jealous of his wife unwittingly poisons the mind of their son against her, with grisly consequences. An old woman in ""It's So Good to See You"" buttonholes a stranger in the supermarket to recount the circumstances of her daughter's death. The man gradually moves from annoyance to sympathy to grief ""in equal portions for the tormented woman and for his foolish self."" Such emotional swings are Barter's stock in trade, but the collection's longest piece, ""Echoes,"" eschews this intensity in a series of journal entries from an American teacher in China. Despite its autobiographical interest (Barter also taught in China), the story lacks dramatic momentum, and the narrator's na ve ignorance of Chinese culture grates quickly, leaving the reader to wonder whether to ascribe this failing to the character or her author. But Barter proves in other stories that she can create realistic characters who reveal deep dramas. She deliberately allows many mysteries to remain unsolved, however, leaving readers to search for their own clues and answers. (June)
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