Sleep

Stephen Dixon, Author Coffee House Press $15.95 (277p) ISBN 978-1-56689-081-6
As this collection of stories written over the past 25 years confirms, there is no mistaking Dixon, twice nominated in fiction for the National Book Award (Frog, Interstate), for any other writer. His insistent narrators and obsessive characters view and review their situations, as if worrying that each moment could change everything. The moments are often small: a hairpiece vexes an elderly, vain theatrical producer; a man drives his route home again and again, looking for something he may have seen out of the corner of his eye; a young father mourns the instant his daughter chooses not to kiss him good-bye at the bus stop. Several of the stories might be called metafictional. Rather like a dog circling around in his bed before settling down, the narrator of ""The Stranded Man"" turns his desert-island fantasy this way and that: Is he or is he not on an island? Is there a woman with him? Does he marry her? Do they have children? How can such a story end? ""Many Janes"" begins ""Give me a line,"" reminding us that good fiction, like good improv, can begin with any premise, and ends with the concatenation that comprises almost any life, ""city, country, sickness, death."" The fiercest metafiction in the collection, ""Tails,"" is a jesting story that never lets the reader forget that every choice an author makes is arbitrary; it also contains Dixon's strongest self-criticism: ""You repeat too much and too much of what you repeat is the obvious."" The powerful title story contains all of Dixon's signature postmodern conventions, but is a little more forgiving. It depicts a man troubled because at the moment of his wife's death he has a thought that might be more selfish than loving: ""Now I can get some sleep."" In his inimitable way, Dixon reveals the heartbreak in something as quotidian as admitting one's weakness at the wrong moment. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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