GOD'S GYM: Stories

John Edgar Wideman, Author . Houghton Mifflin $23 (175p) ISBN 978-0-618-51525-7

Pushing the boundaries of narrative and form, two-time PEN/Faulkner Award–winner Wideman (Hoop Roots , etc.) delivers a sometimes electric and sometimes confounding collection of 10 short stories. In the best of these, such as the heartfelt "Are Dreams Faster Than the Speed of Light," about a dying man, and the racially charged "Fanon," Wideman wields his stream-of-consciousness prose to great effect. Often, however, the clever allusions and deft turns of phrase rise one after the other in an almost Sisyphean struggle toward perfection. For instance, in "What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence," a full page and a half is devoted to describing a coyote "camouflaged by hovering darkness, by mottled fur, a shadow itself, instantly freezing, sniffing the air" as it roams outside a prison. The language is beautiful, but the detour is so long it stops the story dead. The most frustrating example of this calculated experimentation is "The Silence of Thelonious Monk," which starts with a pistol fight between Verlaine and Rimbaud, shifts into the opening lines of a love story and then heads off into an imagined biography of Monk himself. All of which Wideman pulls off with undeniable virtuosity, but it's precisely this sort of narrative acrobatics that too often robs his stories of their power. The full range of Wideman's talents are on display here, however, and even those stories that don't quite live up to expectations are punctuated by moments of brilliance. (Feb. 9)

Reviewed on: 01/10/2005
Release date: 02/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 192 pages - 978-0-547-34672-4
Paperback - 175 pages - 978-0-618-71199-4
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