Delinquent Virgin

Laura Kalpakian, Author Graywolf Press $14 (268p) ISBN 978-1-55597-295-0
Subtitled ""Wayward Pieces,"" this generally beguiling collection of nine varied short stories veers from lightweight entertainment to some solid explorations of the human condition. Kalpakian is most impressive in two stories in which she features characters who scorn mediocrity and determine to live on a higher plane. The supercilious, bitter professor in ""Change at Empoli,"" who has fled America and her bourgeois family to direct a program for exchange students in Italy, realizes belatedly, and to her regret, that her life has been organized around high-flown principles that are in reality heartless, cold and empty. Carefully orchestrated and developed, this is the collection's best work. The cleverly titled ""Lavee, Lagair, Lamore, Lamaird"" is imbued with humor, but the message is similar: another heroine determined to rise above bourgeois values discovers to her humiliation that the French words drilled by her tutor, the aptly named ""Miss Savage,"" are almost as deadly as the WWI battlefields where she has volunteered as an interpreter. Kalpakian proves herself a social critic with a satirical eye, and Miss Savage (""Miss Brodie"" writ large and antic) is a triumph of characterization. In ""Right Hand Man,"" Kalpakian gets male vernacular just right, as her down-and-out narrator discovers that he has more honor than a leading citizen of the community. On the other hand, the title story, a contemporary Christmas fable, seems best suited to a ladies' magazine, as does ""Little Women,"" an implausible tale in which four members of a typing pool, all of whom disdain reading, easily recognize characters from literary classics. Two literary parodies, ""How Max Perkins Learned to Edit"" and ""Moby-Jack,"" are clever but slight. Most of the stories are located in familiar Kalpakian territory, either the fictional California community of St. Elmo (Graced Land) or Isadora Island in Puget Sound (Steps and Exes), and she conveys atmospheric details with assurance. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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