cover image Sunburn Lake

Sunburn Lake

Tom De Haven. Viking Books, $18.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-670-80930-1

Astringent, perceptive characterization distinguishes this collection of three short novels, thematically linked first-person narratives set at 50-year intervals. Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley charts the rueful comic journeys of a young, neurotic traveling salesman, the recalcitrant abandoned nephew in his care and a one-time torch singer who offers the reluctant uncle a glimmer of romance. Another singer, Franny Tolentino, now a Jersey City real-estate entrepreneur, narrates the funny He's All Mine, in which she takes a clear-eyed look back at her 15 minutes of fame as lead vocalist for the Frantastics two decades before. The most ambitious and troublesome novella, Where We'll Never Grow Old, occurs in the year 2037, and depicts the budding friendship of Joy and Tragedy, two teenagers in a shattered civilization afflicted by a plague so overpowering that their early deaths are all but assured. Although a thicket of symbolism and showy technique in the last piece obscures its often striking vision of an apocalyptic future, the best moments in this collection mark De Haven (Funny Papers) as a gifted, thoughtful portraitist. (August)