Of the 14 entries in Penn's first collection, the greater sophistication of the last seven stories overshadows the first six narratives. All deal with alienation and displacement in the pervading culture. ""Toothpaste"" is typical of the first group. It's narrated by a woman who meets a Native American at an arty party in New York. The man's candor makes the other partygoers seem shallow and insecure, but the story's equation of ethnicity and authenticity is itself shallow. The narrator of the most effective tale, ""Tarantula,"" is a postal worker in Sacramento who reads a postcard written by a man named C. An artist who is contemptuous of the dishonesty and timidity of his colleagues, C. uses a striking image to express his feeling for them. During his boyhood, as he was climbing a tree, a tarantula crawled onto his arm, and he had to remain absolutely still until the spider moved off his body. ""It's that silence I paint out of now,"" he says. Feeling a kinship to C., the narrator steals C.'s correspondence, counterfeiting letters in its place, acts that eventually land him in jail. This story and the following ones radiate a resigned understanding for ""all the women and men gridlocked into this world of surprise and pain and broken laws."" Penn (All My Sins Are Relatives) writes in an unadorned style that achieves remarkable power when his fictions reach their restrained but often haunting denouements. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/20/2000 Release date: 10/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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