cover image Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories

Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories

John J. Clayton, . . Toby Press, $27.95 (616pp) ISBN 978-1-59264-202-1

Clayton’s new stories, gathered here with the stories from earlier collections Bodies of the Rich and Radiance , show a steady, assured hand, delivering an exceptional and gratifying body of work. “Cambridge Is Sinking!” typifies his early writing, where young, menschy hippies reluctantly let go of their politics and community in the face of day-to-day struggles, ruminating on jobs, graduate degrees and rich uncles as they try to find direction. As Clayton’s early characters turn away from their idealism, his later ones turn toward a larger search for meaning and often toward the divine. (In his author’s preface, Clayton writes “I hope for Jewish and non-Jewish readers; but I speak as a Jew.”) In “History Lessons” Daniel Rose takes his young son to the neighborhood where he grew up, uncovering a considerable sense of loss (endemic to Clayton’s stories) and a great divide between the father and son. Failed marriages, bitter children and terminal patients mark many of the tales: in “The Contract,” Max pores through holy books while his wife, Natalie, succumbs to cancer; the family finds comfort in the prayers’ familiarity, but their meanings remain obscure. Clayton repeatedly explores a limited set of situations and emotions, but he is a master of his material. (Sept.)