cover image In the Year of the Long Division: Stories

In the Year of the Long Division: Stories

Dawn Raffel. Alfred A. Knopf, $18 (117pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41581-7

The stories in Raffel's first collection are like privet hedges: smooth and clipped, they fastidiously control what is revealed. The implication for the reader is double-edged; one can either be frustrated by the author's self-conscious, highly stylized prose or delighted that she trusts enough to leave so much detective work to the reader. In ``The Trick,'' for example, she writes of a couple: ``They were somewhere other than under the quilt''-a ruffling sentence perhaps, but one whose construction parodies the adulterous characters' inability to speak in direct terms. ``The trick is not to think,'' explains another character in the same tale. Several of the 16 stories here deal beautifully with the mother-daughter or father-daughter bond, and the title story illustrates one opinion about the differences between male and female socialization: the boys in the story are all ``holler and tilt,'' while the ``squealing-clean'' girls watch the world through a window pane. More than anything else, though, it is the cold beauty of Raffel's writing that takes hold of the reader, allowing these brief stories, many of which were first published in the Quarterly, to transcend the limiting category of experimental fiction. Raffel has the ability to turn the tiniest details into poetry. (Jan.)