The Celibacy Club

Janice Eidus, Author City Lights Books $9.95 (199p) ISBN 978-0-87286-322-4
Balancing humor and depth, the 19 short stories in this collection reflect the quirky voice, at once cynical and sincere, that has made Eidus a two-time winner of the O. Henry Award. In their funniest moments, Eidus's stories have serious subtexts of isolation, addiction, abuse and despair. In the title tale, Nancy (who in another story recognizes Elvis in the disguise of a Hasidic Jew) answers an ad for the Celibacy Club in a neighborhood newspaper and finds herself at a meeting in the Bronx, eating chocolate cake with a group of people who have forsworn the ""tasteless"" act of sex. Descriptions of this motley crew are hilariously precise and lighthearted, but the undercurrent of Nancy's isolation is so palpable that the reader is afraid for her. In ""The Mermaid of Orchard Beach,"" seven-year-old Karen is similarly disconnected from her world. On the outside, she is the whining daughter and tag-along little sister, but inside, she cultivates a dazzling imagination that rescues her from the heat and mosquitos of a lonely summer. ""Pandora's Box"" introduces yet another unique protagonist: an operator for ""Phantasy Phone-Phun,"" an adult victim of child abuse who struggles to overcome her memories and finds solace in visiting a dying friend in the hospital. The stories are varied, fable-like (in the case of ""The Art of Forgiveness"") or epistolary ( ""Aunt Lulu, the Condom Lady, Dispenses Advice"") or fantastical (like ""The Ping-Pong Vampire""). But whatever the style, Eidus (Faithful Rebecca and Urban Bliss) ultimately turns each story into a well-conceived, finely executed and deeply moving tale. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
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