One Girl: A Novel in Stories

Sheila Kohler, Author Helicon Nine Editions $12.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-884235-29-0
This collection is a novel only in the most metaphorical sense, but that suits a book in which so much is accomplished by implication and suggestion. As in her other work (The House on R Street, etc.), Kohler adopts a lyrical, often elegiac tone even for women whose lives have barely begun--implying that things will only get tougher. In ""Luck"" (set in South Africa, as are many of these tales), a beautiful young girl (a Kohler archetype) serves as a lure for a handsome older man, delivering him to her tony, alcoholic mother (another Kohler archetype). In ""The Original,"" the handsome man is younger, only a boy, but the mother's predatory instincts persist, and her daughter again finds herself observing a strange lesson about the relationship between the sexes. Throughout the collection, Kohler's lush language belies a sense of menace, as in ""Cracks,"" in which a seemingly idyllic boarding school for girls harbors many secrets. (Kohler's novel by the same name, based on that story, is forthcoming from Zoland [Forecasts, Aug. 2]). Competition between women supplies another common theme, as in ""Ambush,"" which features a widow facing off, quietly as always, with her dead husband's mother. Relationships between the sexes aren't any less complicated: in ""Africans,"" the collection's strongest story, a woman's devoted Zulu servant brutally betrays her, obeying an order from her husband. And in ""Trust,"" a honeymoon quickly devolves into mutual frustration and resentment. At times, these short fictions, which won the 1998 Willa Cather Fiction Prize, judged by William Gass, substitute lyricism for immediate emotional impact; the characters remain intriguing objects, distanced from the reader. Often, though, their reticence hints at a wealth of experience, a common unhappiness that unifies the collection. (Oct.) FYI: ""Africans"" appeared in Best American Short Stories 1999.
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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