cover image Lost and Old Rivers: Stories by Alan Cheuse

Lost and Old Rivers: Stories by Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse / Author Southern Methodist University Press $19.9

NPR commentator, novelist, memoirist and short-story writer Cheuse has an impressive command of many voices. His new collection of 10 short narratives and one semi-autobiographical ""story from memory"" ranges from the disillusionment of an unusually tall young woman struggling to break into Washington's political life (""The Tunnel"") to the helplessness of the first Jew sentenced by the Mexican Inquisition in the 16th century (""Hernando Alonso""). Cheuse's characters are loners: divorced or far from home, they have difficulty making friends and finding love. Jackson, in ""Man in a Barrel,"" imagines telling a woman, ""You got cats? I got herpes."" In his best stories, Cheuse's characters reluctantly realize that their lives will probably never change unless they decide to make them worse. In the weaker ones, the language and plot do not gather momentum and the narrative ends before the characters come into focus. ""An Afternoon of Harp Music in Lake Charles, Louisiana,"" a tale of the tense reunion of two sisters, ends awkwardly in an abrupt metaphor of a turtle eating a carp. However, ""On the Millstone River,"" in which Cheuse writes in the first person about his parents, his two wives and his three children, gracefully uses images of water to unite its segments. The evocative, elegiac prose is seductive, revealing Cheuse's own character and shedding light on the stories that precede it. (Dec.)