My Lord Bag of Rice: New and Selected Stories

Carol Bly, Author, Tobias Wolff, Introduction by Milkweed Editions $16.95 (326p) ISBN 978-1-57131-031-6
Two new stories round out Bly's collection, which otherwise comprises nine tales from her first, breakthrough collection Backbone, and from The Tomcat's Wife. All set in the same small Minnesota town, the tales feature ordinary characters who challenge their bland, provincial surroundings by revealing laudable, even heroic quirks of personality and perception. The reprinted stories provide ample psychological context for the two new ones. In ""Renee: A War Story,"" an unnamed narrator evokes the trauma and uncertainty of sixth grade, exploring her admiration for a remarkable classmate. Renee is better than any boy at softball, gaining the respect of even the bully. But the narrator detects something unhealthy about Renee, romanticizing the athlete's dark under-eye circles and thin body until she gets a glimpse into Renee's dreadful home life. Bly's tone is wistful; the off-screen violence lurks, but is never directly confronted. ""Chuck's Money,"" in contrast, has all cards on the table: when bookkeeper Leona finds a dead body, she notes the odor: ""I am smelling Chucky's brains."" The boy is ""the son of the richest big shot in town,"" and when no-nonsense Leona exposes the wealthy man's hypocrisy, she also learns a poignant truth about her own humble husband. The good-guy/bad-guy theme recurs throughout these tales, with bullies taking shape in virtually all of them. But Bly has a gift for making flawed, spirited people endearing, and many of her characters are heroic because they've become heroes to themselves. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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