A Boy Like Astrid's Mother

Mae Briskin, Author W. W. Norton & Company $16.95 (222p) ISBN 978-0-393-02603-0
Making a debut marked by rare strength and authority of voice, Briskin here presents a talent of tremendous promise. All but one of these 15 stories have appeared in magazine form between 1975 and 1987; the author, who did not begin to write until the age of 45, has received four PEN awards. The collection is divided into two parts, and the first offers a wide-ranging selection of 11 narratives, most of which touch on the theme of parent-child love. In the title story, a haunting stray teenage boy forces new definitions into the lives of the family that takes him in. In ``Giant Sequoia,'' a woman attempts to manage a visit from her parents, who have an uneasy regard for her husband. ``Smart she got from her jeans. Smart-alecky she got from you,'' her mother tells him. In ``Present Tense,'' a frustrated woman confronts her parents with their age-old habits and weaknesses and suddenly realizes that she has ``changed the rules of the game'' without consulting her mother. But the second part of this book, which consists of four stories partly set in Italy during World War II, is where Briskin really soars. Writing of those courageous few who hid Jews, strangers, despite dire personal consequences, the power and intensity of her prose bring stunning authenticity and immediacy to these short narratives. The courage necessary for confrontation, the essential optimism of the human spirit and the familial love that binds for better or worse comprise Briskin's subjects. This is far more than one can reasonably expect from a first collection, and Briskin's next publication will be awaited with great anticipation. (August)
Reviewed on: 08/05/1988
Release date: 08/01/1988
Paperback - 978-0-393-30674-3
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