The Self-Made Brain Surgeon and Other Stories

Mark Harris, Author, Jon Surgal, Introduction by Bison Books $17.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8032-7319-1
In a witty, buoyant collection, Harris (Bang the Drum Slowly) turns away from the favorite topic of his novels--baseball--and proves himself a masterful diagnostician of the heart and mind. Told with black humor, the title story concerns a crackpot grocer who moonlights as a self-styled ""brain surgeon"" by dispensing impromptu psychotherapy to stifled individuals. The narrative speaks of the enormous emotional hole in people's lives, and of the human propensity to indulge hypocrisy and to trust charlatans promising instant cures. ""The Iron Fist of Oligarchy,"" a sly, wisecracking gem set in the early days of television, charts the meteoric rise of an obscure Midwestern radio host who becomes a TV star by imitating a dog's bark. ""At Prayerbook Cross"" lays bare the resentments, dreams and frustrations of small-town lives with a deftness worthy of Sherwood Anderson or Edgar Lee Masters. This baker's dozen of tales displays considerable diversity, from a scathing dissection of corporate rituals and deceits (""Touching Idamae Low"") to the lighthearted roundelay of sexual betrayals in ""La Lumiere."" There are several slight pieces, such as ""From the Desk of the Troublesome Editor,"" a meditation on Jewish history wrapped in a flat-footed satire of the book publishing industry. For baseball fans, the collection opens with ""Jackie Robinson and My Sister"" (1946), a mild comic jab at racial prejudice, and closes with a 1993 hymn to baseball as a path to self-knowledge. Harris's penetrating stories offer astute perceptions of Americans, people who are frequently outwitted by their own husbands, wives, memories and invented personal mythologies. (May) FYI: Four of Harris's novels--Bang the Drum Slowly, Something About a Soldier, Speed and The Talemaker--are available as Bison Books.
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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