cover image Long Odds

Long Odds

Gordon Weaver. University of Missouri Press, $19.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-8262-1291-7

Although frequently on target in their criticism of middle-class complacency, these 11 stories about men bewildered by contemporary mores often take their critiques too far. Weaver (The Way We Know in Dreams) dwells on humankind at its most embittered and alienated--not a bad practice in theory, but one-dimensional when pushed to excess. In ""The Divorced Men's Mall Walker's Club,"" several newly single men, ""outcasts, losers... pariahs"" because their marriages have failed, speed-walk around a shopping mall each morning and make lascivious comments about the nubile young women shoppers. In the title story, a man's monthly night out with his drinking buddies turns sour when he wins too much at dice, and one particularly sore loser informs him of an infidelity he didn't know his wife had committed. Some of the stories parody the writer's profession too fiercely. A mammoth literary convention in Las Vegas creates the stage for a wrenching satire of literary self-awareness and self-congratulation in ""Solidarity Forever!"" An aging bachelor in ""Gilded Quill: The Story of Jones"" joins a circle of fanatics that passes for a writing group in his suburban enclave by writing a piece about how it feels to jog. The tales are best when they are at their most whimsical, occasionally acquiring a poetic grace. The human mannequin at a clothing store who narrates ""Mannequin"" is proud of his gift for performance--which backfires when he begins to imitate the customers in an insulting, grotesque manner. ""Viewed from Lanta & Wally's"" describes the protagonist's belief that his friends and neighbors are behaving bizarrely--when he's too psychologically near-sighted to notice he's as eccentric as any of them. The stories mix emotional accuracy with an unsettling tendency toward overgeneralization; the dialogue sometimes swerves into black and Jewish ethnic stereotyping. Weaver pities his characters for their confusion, and yet these artfully composed stories may suffer from an overdetermination bordering on fatalism. (June)