cover image The Earth and the Sky

The Earth and the Sky

Debbie Lee Wesselmann. Southern Methodist University Press, $22.5 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-87074-420-4

Something or someone lost in translation is the general theme of the 15 short stories in this first collection from Wesselmann (author of one novel, Trutor & the Balloonist), yet each story is noteworthy for setting its own tone and sense of place. Wesslemann's characters are dislocated or displaced: a grieving Rhode Island woman who spends her vacations driving into tornado country; a newlywed Chinese woman facing her new American family in Princeton; a teacher named Ingrid who has broken up with her boyfriend but can't let herself give up her nonrefundable ticket to their Caribbean vacation. Wesselmann's people lack illusions and bear scars of deaths and abandonments; still, they must be described as seekers. Often what they seek is the ability to articulate their own desires and fears. Afraid of snorkeling, Ingrid remembers an ex-boyfriend who ""could not understand that it was not the height that frightened her but the dependence on a mechanical thing, the parachute, to save her life."" Without minimalist austerity, and with only the occasional reliance on tidy endings and too-neat images, Wesselmann has found a lucid voice in which to describe her characters' distinctly contemporary confusions. (Mar.)