cover image Dinner with Osama

Dinner with Osama

Marilyn Krysl, . . Univ. of Notre Dame, $20 (194pp) ISBN 978-0-268-03318-7

Many of the characters in these eight short fictions from Krysl (How to Accommodate Men ) maintain an awkward, ironic limbo between the desire for political correctness and stultifying class entitlements. In the imaginative title story, Sheila, the upscale middle-aged protagonist who describes herself as “your average liberal colonial” living in environmentally hip Boulder, Colorado, resolves to address her nephew Darin’s death in the World Trade Center attack by inviting Osama bin Laden to dinner. “Think you could backpedal on the Satan thing?” she asks, in one diplomatically witty barb. The longest story by far, “Welcome to the Torture Center, Love,” is set in 1989 at a U.N. refugee camp in civil war–torn Sudan, where Michael Garang, a British-Sudanese doctor, and Annie, a white American from a very rich family, toil under harsh conditions and fall in love. When the warehouse grain is stolen, Garang sets off through enemy territory to secure food, and his absence forces Annie to take a hard look at their relationship. Other stories, such as “Cherry Garcia, Pistachio Cream” and “Heraclitis, Help Me,” explore intense mother-daughter bonds that leave little room for fatherly incursion. Krysl’s fiction resists the usual trajectories of plot, concentrating instead on a relentless, sometimes entertaining and illuminating investigation of personal responsibility. (Mar.)