One Day's Perfect Weather: More Twice Told Tales

Daniel Stern, Author Southern Methodist University Press $19.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-87074-445-7
In some respects, Stern is a writer's writer: his impeccably crafted stories gracefully incorporate literary references and demonstrate a reverence for language and the arts. As in two previous volumes (Twice Told Tales and Twice Upon a Time), these seven short fictions ""reflect the inspiring passions and concepts"" of specific poems and stories by Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Borges and Yeats. Each of these middle-aged protagonists is a Jewish New Yorker, though some live in exile (in the Midwest, the South, etc.) from the culture that sustained them in Manhattan. Several have been divorced, but their second wives are valiant and compassionate; a mentor who has died is another recurrent motif. The central component of three stories is classical music. In ""A Man of Sorrow and Acquainted with Grief,"" Jewish high school music teacher Ben Kraft, picked up for speeding on a Texas highway, lies to the trooper that he was carried away by the spiritual message of Bach's St. John Passion blaring on his tape deck, and then is horrified when he's celebrated in the community as a born-again Christian. Jerry Reubenfine in ""Duet for Past and Future"" mourns his youth; he thinks that the cellist in a chamber music concert in Indianapolis is playing the instrument he sold in Manhattan when he quit being a poor musician and went to law school. An out-of-work stockbroker in ""The Taste of Pennies"" is anguished because an injury to his mouth keeps him from playing the clarinet, the source of his spiritual sustenance. The characters in every story have found life more complex than they had ever imagined; among their many losses, they particularly rue their loss of faith in the future. The protagonist of the title story has run out of time; dying of cancer, he convinces his new wife, herself suffering from a painful arthritis-like virus, that they should both leave bed and spend one perfect day in Manhattan together. While the plot here is rather far-fetched, it catches the sadness of diminished expectations with exquisite poignancy. The remaining three stories are weaker, but the collection as a whole offers rewarding insights, as the characters deal with life's disappointments with quiet resilience. Stern's gentle epiphanies double the resonance of the texts that inspired him. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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