Hush Hush

Steven Barthelme. Melville (Random, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-61219-159-1
Barthelme’s new book is less a set of linked short stories than narratives that cohere with thematic chiming. Protagonists in similar predicaments advance an idea and play upon one another from tale to tale: a narrator faces the impending death of his father, and in the next story, a character deals with a father figure’s death. A man named Quinn recurs: in “Interview,” he leaves his comfortable job and wife in favor of fixing cars back in Texas. In “Coachwhip,” Quinn’s son, in the midst of a fistfight, considers his father’s failings. In “Acquaintance,” Quinn flies to Boston to attempt to find a signed copy of his deceased mentor’s failed novel. Quinn’s struggles reflect those of others, people on the outs, either clinging to or running from a lost idea or person. Stylistically, the stories’ range from traditional to the experimental flares in an alienated child’s neologisms in “Siberia” and the disorienting admission of a nonfiction writer’s fabricated facts in “The New South.” What makes this so solid is, no matter Barthelme’s approach, the strong sense of humanity that remains. With great humor and insight, he explores the psyche of desperate people striving to connect, with others and with themselves. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/06/2012
Release date: 10/23/2012
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