River Teeth

David James Duncan, Author Doubleday Books $20 (250p) ISBN 978-0-385-47727-7
The enormously popular writer of The River Why and The Brothers K offers an eclectic collection of fiction and nonfiction, in which the latter entries pack the greater wallop. There's a whimsical, sentimental and very Zen sensibility at work in the short stories, although Theme and Meaning often strut too blatantly. In one story, a young girl learns the frustrating distinctions between fantasy and reality when her garbage man becomes to her a mythical figure like Santa Claus. In ``Not Rocking the Boats,'' Duncan revisits his river terrain when an ardent and usually drunk fly-fisherman confronts a packaged fishing tour operator. The strongest entries are nonfiction pieces that Duncan calls ``river teeth,'' a term he draws from fallen old-growth trees that are whittled down by rivers to their last and hardest wood. These vignettes are first-person, succinct and uniformly powerful. The best of them, ``The Mickey Mantle Koan,'' considers the irony of a signed ball from Mantle arriving just after the death of his baseball fanatic brother. ``A Streetlamp in the Netherlands'' depicts a jarring collision between beauty and violence, when a woman on a moped hits an opening car door with her knee. Duncan calls these bits ``time-defying knots of experience that remain in us after most of our autobiographies are gone.'' In these artful musings, Duncan reins in the didactics and presents readers with marvelous nuggets mined from a complex, absurd and magical life. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-553-37827-6
Open Ebook - 154 pages - 978-0-440-33651-8
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