BARGAINS IN THE REAL WORLD

Elizabeth Cox, Author BARGAINS IN THE REAL WORLD El $19.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0985462734

Children are forced to grow up fast in novelist Cox's collection of 13 simple, unsettling short stories, set mostly in the South. Against a backdrop of cozy domesticity, reckless acts, abuse and abandonment disturb but rarely destroy the lives of stoic, resilient girls and women. In "The Singers, 1949," Jenny, now an adult, recalls her molestation at age nine, which left her confused but sure of the act's significance ("I stood by the tree and tried to decide if I was different or the same"). In "Biology," 15-year-old Evie, a character from Cox's most recent novel, Night Talk, vows to change her promiscuous ways after she is jilted by her preacher lover, a grown man. Sex and religion mix again in "Saved," when 13-year-old Josie pledges to be a missionary and tries to simultaneously save and seduce a stranger. In one of Cox's strongest stories, "The Last Fourth Grade," a teacher in prison for murdering her husband accuses one of her former students, now a mother herself, of having encouraged the teacher's dead husband to fondle the former student as a child. Even the most benign narratives have dark undertones. A misunderstanding propels the protagonist of "Washed" into marrying a Gulf War veteran; a woman whose husband was killed in an accident comes to terms with his death in "A Sounding Brass." This is Cox's first story collection, and her succinct, subtle prose proves to be particularly well suited to the form. Too careful styling may muffle the stories' effectiveness at times, but Cox's talent for understatement lends the collection a quiet, burnished glow. Agent, Susan Lescher. (Mar. 9)

Reviewed on: 02/19/2001
Release date: 00/00/0000
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