Mary Sojourner, Author . Scribner $13 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2970-8

Sojourner, an essayist and NPR commentator, regularly evokes the fragile beauty of the American Southwest in her work. Here, she writes about "the great sisterhood of single aging women" in 18 short, nuanced tales that capture the pathos and possibilities of confronting love, sex, intimacy and death long after children have grown and husbands have split. The writing brims with spirituality, like the desert where most of her pieces are set: a place where the sky is "the color of ripe cantaloupe" and the "mountains black against a horizon of drifting tourmaline light." In "Bear House," Sojourner presents her doppelgänger, Sheila, a 54-year-old writer living alone in a cabin that lacks plumbing. She has just learned that her best friend, Rae, is HIV-positive and the two comfort each other amid the ancient Hopi monuments of the Arizona desert. "What They Write in Other Countries" is about Antoinette Green, a creative writing teacher numbed by the complacency of her students and by her own failure to embrace life. Sojourner is a whiz at scene setting, and she has a flair for pithy character descriptions. But not all of her pieces satisfy. Some, like "Binky," about a group of would-be activists en route to a demonstration, are little more than sketches, too wispy and lacking in drama to impress deeply. Then there are her repetitive renderings of men, mostly Vietnam vets who felt "more there in that war" than they've ever felt since. In the poignant title piece, just such a man cares for a single mother dying of cancer; he has known her for five years, since he met her in a strip bar. The connection between them is intense and palpable, demonstrating that Sojourner is at her best when she conjures the "bad, beautiful magic" that brings people together—and also tears them apart. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4165-8953-2
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