cover image The Tennessee Waltz and Other Stories

The Tennessee Waltz and Other Stories

Alan Cheuse. Peregrine Smith Books, $16.95 (150pp) ISBN 978-0-87905-366-6

These sensitive, poignant stories by the author of The Grandmothers' Club reveal a middle-class, down-to-earth, gritty Southwest whose soulful tones seem to issue from ``some country music combo of the cosmos ever mourning the impending divorce among all the matter in the universe.'' A theme of separation--from spouse, children, home, country--dominates the lives of Cheuse's lonely travelers, who are often seeking escape from shattered marriages. They drift through a spacious, sunlight-streaked ``countryside . . . producing pathos beyond the limit'' and into interiors filled with country accents, cowboy boots and blues that permeate a haze of whiskey breath and cigarette smoke. Minimal plot and perfunctory dialogue in scenes ostensibly describing a slide presentation or a Nashville bus tour are balanced by a pungent subtext that requires careful reading. Perplexing, abrupt endings that drop the reader off in the middle of nowhere, and mysteries hinted at but never unveiled, make most vignettes cryptically intriguing. And Cheuse's respect and compassion for his estranged, confused characters render the stories ultimately life-affirming rather than depressing. (Apr.)