The Dirty Shame Hotel: And Other Stories

Ron Block, Author New Rivers Press $14.95 (156p) ISBN 978-0-89823-187-8
Block's mastery of the well-turned phrase proves an alluring bait in the 13 stories of his first collection. He captures his midwestern characters with wonderful comic economy (""From the mustache and the butter-slick hair he so carefully combed, one might think he was in love with himself, but he was not. He hated himself with an absolute gravity that would make most men buckle""). Block seems a surer portraitist than storyteller, however; one occasionally feels that the author is ambling in no set direction. Still, an undercurrent of tension holds several of these stories together. For example, in ""Zadoc Xenophon Cannot View Bright New Moons. Can Vera Montague?"" a woman on the edge of spinsterhood, living with her sister and farmer brother-in-law in the years after WWI, finds a new world open up to her as she teaches herself to type: ""The Plains, she thought, deserved their name. They promised nothing, and they always kept their promises."" The weaker entries here are overburdened by unsubtle subtexts and heavy-handed allegory, and Block loses the thread in his otherwise intriguing title story. Yet even here the characters--the seedy inhabitants of a residential hotel--are memorable and believable. This volume demonstrates an original talent waiting to be honed. (May)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
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