The Drowning: And Other Stories

Edward Delaney, Author
Edward Delaney, Author Carnegie-Mellon University Press $15.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-88748-314-1
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The credible, plainspeaking characters in Delaney's sure-footed first collection of nine stories--priests, drunks, conspiracy theorists, criminals--have taken wrong turns in the past that lend their present lives a sad irony. In ""Travels with Mr. Slush,"" an ex-felon who drives a truck that sells crushed, flavored ice through urban neighborhoods suddenly finds himself the victim of crime when youths steal his car battery on the hottest day of the summer, melting his entire load. Yet the tale closes with a surprising, cautious optimism. In ""O Beauty! O Truth!"" a boy who ridicules his strict teachers foreshadows his shooting death years later by police officers as he leaves a crime scene. Characters usually find crucial life decisions made for them by forces beyond their control. The 17-year-old narrator of ""A Visit to My Uncle"" travels to New York to ask his rich, estranged relative for money for medical school; he is nonplused when his uncle (a lawyer) offers to pay his way, but only under manipulative conditions. The standout title story tells of a tormented former priest who suddenly emigrates in middle age from Ireland to America. His new life includes a new vocation as hod carrier and a new name, an act born of panicked necessity after he disposes of the dead body of a possible traitor, a constable in the RIC, in a lake. In the less dramatic pieces, Delaney wisely lets a poignant situation tell its own story. In ""The Anchor and Me,"" a mild-tempered husband is unable to say whether he feels jealous or proud of his anchorwoman spouse's driven, successful life and career; the antihero of ""Notes Toward My Absolution"" robs convenience stores with an unloaded gun. Delaney's measured pace imparts a grace to his tales, which at their best are reminiscent of Cheever or Updike's grittiest efforts. Few words are wasted in this quietly triumphant collection. (Oct.)
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