The Palace of Wasted Footsteps: Stories

Cary Holladay, Author University of Missouri Press $19.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8262-1186-6
Themes of loss and yearning pervade Holladay's sometimes lyric but often flat collection of stories (after The People Down South), which features an eclectic cast of characters struggling to resist their pervasive disappointment. An ache for the past--and for missed opportunities--drives them to search for meaning and beauty, doomed though they are by naivete and circumstance. Many of these 10 stories are set in the mid-South and, though contemporary, are oddly blurred by a nostalgia that veers toward regional stereotype. Amusing at times, Holladay's flair for the invention of quirky, small-town oddballs ultimately weakens the collection; more caricatures than characters, their development is often wan. Though her characters are limited in terms of both ability and circumstance, Holladay's sympathy for them is evident, and, to her credit, she resists miraculous transformations. In ""White Lilies,"" an adolescent boy's maturity is hastened when he contemplates his father's death from leukemia. The most ambitious and resonant piece in the collection, ""Merry-Go-Sorry,"" centers on the aftermath of a triple murder in a small Arkansas community. Among an impressive array of points-of-view, including the families of both the victims and the alleged murderers, Farmer McKenzie achieves the collection's overarching insight: ""Sowing and reaping, he adds up what he knows and finds it wanting."" Despite their noble efforts, the truisms and modest insights these characters achieve can't save them--precisely because these people are too clearly invented solely in order to achieve their cliched epiphanies. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/14/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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