CREATURES OF HABIT

Jill McCorkle, Author
Jill McCorkle, Author . Algonquin $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-56512-256-7
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-56512-397-7
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-56512-720-3
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The title creatures of McCorkle's third short story collection and eighth book are humans with animal qualities and animals with human qualities. In lesser hands, such a setup could be formulaic, but McCorkle has a poet's skill and the necessary restraint to make the conceit work. The interconnected stories follow the arc of a life span, beginning with the memory of a summer evening in 1970 in smalltown North Carolina. Running in a pack, the neighborhood children follow the mosquito truck and get high on its fumes, talk about murder and suicide, and swim clandestinely in a motel pool. The way these seventh graders deal with their impulses and fears foreshadows their way of handling life's crises as adults. Their candid voices, the foundation of any McCorkle fiction, are heard in the remaining 11 stories. In "Snipe," six-year-old Caroline realizes how vulnerable her bullying older brother is. "Chickens" features another unmasking, this one performed by the narrator, a woman on her honeymoon with perhaps the wrong man. In "Hominids," the husbands duke it out for the role of Alpha Male at a reunion, while the wives retreat to the kitchen. This is all background to the narrator's recollection of her sympathetic reaction to a model of Lucy at the science museum. McCorkle's two chief strengths are her earthiness and her command of narrative voices, and she is at the top of her game here. The stories are at once intricate and compulsively readable, redolent of the small failures and triumphs of human life. 16-city author tour. (Oct. 12)

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