cover image A Stranger in This World

A Stranger in This World

Kevin Canty. Doubleday Books, $20 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-385-47387-3

This first collection shines with verbal brilliance--the surface of these stories moves and writhes like live skin. In fact, Canty's attention to the outward appearance of things is at the forefront of these pieces: of a young retarded woman in ``Judy,'' he says ``Everything she felt was on her face.'' Of Tina, in ``The Victim,'' the narrator observes, ``She scribbled on this emptiness herself: eleven earrings in her left ear, two in her right. She's shaved her legs and dyed her hair . . . trying to write a new version of herself.'' But it is what moves beneath these surfaces that becomes a little trying for the reader, for Canty seems to distrust his eye and ear, investing his narratives with tabloid violence or soap-operatic drama. There is an exploding head; there is ``Margaret, hanging like a red doll out the hole in the windshield''; and epiphany upon epiphany. Still, Canty has enormous promise. The opening story, ``King of the Elephants,'' ends with an image so beautiful and so strange that it can't be paraphrased: ``I looked at the trucks passing by on the highway and I watched my shadow circle around me in the headlights, the thin man torn to nothing in the dark, again and again. After a few minutes of watching I turned back toward the car, where my father was sleeping.'' Altogether, an impressive debut. (Aug.)