cover image Flights in the Heavenlies: Stories

Flights in the Heavenlies: Stories

Ernest J. Finney, Author University of Illinois Press $14.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-252-06480-7

California settings and certain recurrent themes, such as religion, bind this story collection together, but it is more notable for the singular imagination of each story. At the heart of every piece is a unique and troubled soul: a reluctantly clairvoyant woman exploited by her profit-seeking daughter; ""Spaghetti Al,"" the borderline-alcoholic chef and owner of a restaurant/gambling den. The characterizations are unfailingly deep and sympathetic, the details memorable--like Chet, for whom lifting heavy stones had evolved from necessity to something of a pastime: ""He didn't know all the reasons people picked up rocks here. `It's kind of a tradition.' "" But almost all of the stories are nevertheless slightly unsatisfying; they end without resolution, in a manner that adds no crucial vagueness or anomie. There are other small weaknesses: for example, Finney's transitions from flashbacks can be abrupt and confusing. But in the last and longest tale, ""Talus,"" Finney (Birds Landing) hits his stride, and the result is striking. This love story featuring a lapsed priest who becomes a shepherd is truly haunting and indicates a talent well worth watching. (Mar.)