Life on Earth: Stories

Shelia Ballantine, Author, Sheila Ballantyne, Author First Glance Books $16.45 (175p) ISBN 978-0-671-60547-6
Some of the characters and situations of Ballantyne's unforgettable novel Imaginary Crimes turn up again in this collection of 10 stories. The narrator's mother, who died young, and her feckless and neglectful father, who disappeared on a mining trip and whose bones were found five years later, again haunt three of these tales. ""Perpetual Care'' is a zinger, with unforgettable scenes such as the one in which the narrator dances down the deserted, Muzak-filled halls of a mausoleum-columbarium outside of Reno. This story has the mordant humor characteristic of Ballantyne at her best. But ``UntitledInk on Paper,'' dealing with the same events, is maddeningly opaque. Three narratives set in Miami also involve cemeteries and columbariums. Ballantyne focuses almost exclusively on the fragility of life: on the cruel diminutions of old age and the sudden tragedies that can happen even to those who thought there were plenty of years left. The leitmotif, expressed in ``A Letter to John Lennon,'' is that the best one can do is try to ``make it through'' a too short and sadly imperfect existence. There is a constant undercurrent of pain, especially in the three vignettes dealing with a middle-aged man in the grip of a profoundly debilitating disease and his wife, the narrator, who in ``Letters to the Darkness'' mystically shares the cold chills that wrack his body and symbolize his death in life. Perhaps these stories were a catharsis for Ballantyne, but the monomatic, obsessive focus on illness and death diminishes the collection's impact. (April)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1988
Release date: 04/01/1988
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