cover image The Ant Generator: 1991 John Simmons Short Fiction Award

The Ant Generator: 1991 John Simmons Short Fiction Award

Elizabeth Harris. University of Iowa Press, $20 (158pp) ISBN 978-0-87745-342-0

The stresses of daily life leave many of Harris's characters, in these 11 tightly focused, stringently realistic stories, emotionally numb, off-balance or grasping at straws. In ``The World Record Holder,'' a divorced Texas high school teacher, daughter of a famous jockey, finds existential meaning by setting The Guinness Book of Records milestone for standing on one foot. In the title story, an anthropologist invents a totem-like object swarming with ants, which she half-believes will help bring order and harmony to the world, until an act of random violence shatters her fantasy. Weirdly comic moments abound. The lawyer heroine of ``Patty Soames's Ghost Story About Farley'' glimpses her ex-lover, a dapper cocaine dealer who committed suicide, returning as a ghost to request a foot-massage. The best stories in this continually surprising debut collection (winner of the 1991 John Simmons Short Fiction Award) are the one or two that tap deep veins of feeling, like the achingly poignant ``All Dance,'' about a retired widower who romantically courts a reserved divorcee calm in her acceptance of the fact that she's dying of cancer. (Nov.)