cover image How Aliens Think: Stories by Judith Grossman

How Aliens Think: Stories by Judith Grossman

Judith Grossman. Johns Hopkins University Press, $31 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-8018-6171-0

Though she sometimes errs on the side of glib irony and her more formally ambitious stories may read like academic in-jokes, in the best and most straightforward of these 12 short narratives Grossman (Her Own Terms) achieves a polished balance of deadpan wit and understated emotional intensity. In precise, economical prose, Grossman depicts a generation of transatlantic drifters-- mostly academics and writers who fled their modest postwar English subdivisions for the U.S. as soon as they came of age in the early '60s--and their self-sacrificing, unfulfilled, working-class parents. Yet Grossman's characters are alien not so much because they are adrift in a foreign country or members of an inferior class, but because they are mute observers, shut off from the world by their own inability to communicate honestly with those around them. In ""`Rovera,'"" a young wife choked by need and resentment can only communicate with her indifferent husband through dumb gestures. ""She handed him the glass and stroked across his shoulders, meaning all the time, See how I love you, Robby?"" The properly restrained family of ""A Wave of the Hand"" is so reticent that no one ever discusses the obvious and startling fact that the narrator's ""father"" is actually a woman passing as a man. In the unsentimental ""Death of a Mother,"" the narrator returns to her childhood home in England after 20 years abroad and finds, among her recently deceased mother's otherwise minimal possessions, 20 years' worth of her own airy and shamefully disingenuous letters. If some of her tropes and narrative tricks are familiar, Grossman slyly acknowledges as much, and the strength of her best stories is not so much in their revelations as in the frank, intelligent, unassuming characters who populate them. (Oct.)