Post-hippie attitudesDdisdain for conventional mores, a preference for relationships with like-minded free spirits and an appreciation of natureDinform this impressive third story collection by Henley, whose first novel, Hummingbird House, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the New Yorker Best Fiction Book Award. Set across the U.S. wherever loose communities of family and friends settle down, from hardscrabble rural Indiana to the Pacific Northwest, the 19 stories capture defining moments in otherwise ordinary lives. ""The Secret of Cartwheels"" is one of two tales about a large Catholic family, no doubt inspired by Henley's own experience as the eldest of eight children. At age 13, narrator Roxanne and two of her younger sisters are sent off to a children's home because their mother, an alcoholic, can't cope with her many offspring. Roxanne, plagued by her inability to turn cartwheels and her habit of wetting the bed, dreams despite herself of the life she used to know. In ""Cargo,"" Roxanne reappears as an adult, settled in Montana. Her sister has called to say their mother is dying and the family is gathering. In attempting to decide whether she'll go home, Roxie acknowledges that she's left many places hoping for a new beginning, forgetting every time ""that the things you hate the most are the things that travel with you."" Many of Henley's characters live transient lives, work at menial jobsDmechanic, fruit picker, waitressDidentify with the lyrics of country music and look to dope, booze and casual sex as palliatives. They recognize their weaknesses, but they don't give up the game. The author's sense of humor shines often. In ""Slinkers,"" Joanne, whose ""laughter always made you feel good"" is an ""intuitive shopper"" who proclaims, ""If you find a pair of jeans that really fit, buy two pair."" These stories, by a marvelous writer who speaks from both the heart and the head, are as comfortable as well-worn denim. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000 Release date: 09/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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