Don't Worry about the Kids: Stories

Jay Neugeboren, Author
Jay Neugeboren, Author University of Massachusetts Press $30 (192p) ISBN 978-1-55849-113-7
Reviewed on: 11/03/1997
Release date: 11/01/1997
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The protagonists of these 15 stories by the talented Neugeboren are often divorced fathers fighting for custody of their children, Jewish men looking back on their boyhoods in Brooklyn, where they played basketball or football, and where their fathers were given to domestic violence and died young. The women in their lives tend to be either their cold and unmaternal mothers or their young, beautiful and sexually insatiable lovers. The specter of mental illness is always present. These are themes that Neugeboren has explored elsewhere, most recently in his haunting memoir Imagining Robert. Here his success is mixed. The best stories are the ones that break away from Neugeboren's conventional themes: ""Connorsville, Virginia"" is narrated by a young black man who has always accepted the South's racial bias until a murder during the civil rights agitations brings him into an ironic alliance with a white sheriff who needs to square his conscience. ""The Year Between"" is a subtle tale of a couple who act out what might be a Jamesian story, and a protagonist who understands belatedly that he has invited tragedy. The title story, with its supple weaving together of a rich palate of sensory and metaphorical images, the plangent lure of nostalgia and the gritty reality of New York streets, is packed with emotional resonance. Often, however, Neugeboren begins with an imaginative premise and intriguing characters and veers into melodrama. The CIA agent who coolly sends his daughter to her death in ""What is the Good Life?"" and the mean, promiscuous mother who abandons her son in ""How I Became an Orphan in 1947"" are never believable characters. Other stories are passionless and inert (""Leaving Brooklyn"") or fundamentally implausible (""Your Child Has Been Towed""). Yet Neugeboren's compassionate understanding of people struggling to live decently, love well and find moral certainties embues them all with sincerity and, sometimes, power. (Oct. )
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