Mary Caponegro, Author . Coffee House $14.95 (233p) ISBN 978-1-56689-120-2

At once visceral and cerebral, Caponegro's latest, aptly titled collection (after The Star Café; Five Doubts) explores domesticity in a series of five stories that are likely to bewilder more readers than they will delight. The first story, "The Daughter's Lamentation," concerns a grown woman, formerly an aspiring ballerina, who looks after her elderly father and the once beautiful, now ramshackle home he lives in. Caponegro conjoins the deterioration of man and dwelling through dense, lyrical prose: "Octopus, I mispronounced that mesmerizing orifice, exchanging consonants, because it trapped him with its tentacles of light." "The Mother's Mirror" is a brief, meditative and dryly funny glimpse into the banality of family life. The narrator, an unappreciated and exhausted woman given to speaking in the first-person plural, wonders, "Why do we find ourself enraptured by the sonorous voice or elegant meaningless gestures of those we do not harbor in our homes?" The centerpiece of the collection—and the strangest offering by far—is the novella-length "The Son's Burden." Set in 1932 Chicago, it is narrated by Thomas Smalldrige, a would-be inventor obsessed with creating hybrid variations of the harp, the instrument his mother plays. Thomas's dismayed fiancée bears witness to the private antics of his brilliant but hilariously demented family, most notably his sister, Eleanor, who (with good reason, it turns out) exhibits a morbid fascination with physiological oddities. As in the other stories, the arch, archaic tone is disrupted by tantalizing flashes of innuendo and psychological menace. This daring book is definitely of the love-it-or-leave-it variety: like sea urchin or calf brains, Caponegro's style is an acquired taste that will thrill a small but enthusiastic audience. Author tour. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/01/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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