cover image  The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories

The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories

Valerie Martin, . . Vintage, $13 (212pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-9550-6

Each piece in this suspenseful and piercingly acute collection traces an artist's struggles for excellence and public acclaim, and how those struggles crosscut with relationships that support and undo art. The title story is told by a moderately successful writer who receives the unwanted gift of a very promising manuscript from a former flame who brutally betrayed him. The narrator of "His Blue Period" is a painter who owes his small bit of fame to an egomaniacal former friend; he describes the romantic dramas of their bohemian days, and their consequences. The heartbreakingly fatalistic "The Bower" takes place on a smaller stage: a small college's married drama coach falls for the charismatic student playing Hamlet, but, like Hamlet, everyone's helpless to act. The final story, "The Change," is the most uncanny: a gifted printmaker's husband puts her changing moods down to menopause, but the story's end suggests a much stranger source. Martin's final-page twists create an O. Henryesque poignancy, and these unexpected shifts of perspective tend to increase the stories' emotional heft rather than make for cute denouement. Compulsively readable and impressively perceptive, Martin's stories put art's dark compromises in sharp relief. (May)