cover image Drinking with the Cook

Drinking with the Cook

Laura Furman. Winedale Publishing, $24 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-9701525-2-7

The protagonists of the 13 sensitive, well-crafted stories in Furman's new collection are mainly women who lead solitary inner lives even when they are involved in intimate relationships. Most live in the country, or in the suburbs of cities in Texas or New England; many are committed vegetarians; in several stories, rain is pervasive, and in each of them, the atmosphere is muted and melancholy. For all of these women, the future is frighteningly unclear, and they all must come to terms with loss and longing. Miriam, the narrator of ""Hagalund,"" the most complex and satisfying story, looks back at a time 20 years ago when she fled to Sweden to escape a broken heart, and lived with American draft protestors against the Vietnam war. Furman deftly recreates the political activism, casual drug use and hand to mouth existence of this small community, while depicting Miriam's decision to move to another stage of her life. Another painful epiphany that opens the door to freedom sways Deborah, the questing heroine of ""The Apprentice,"" who seeks clues from an artist on how to pursue her career, and discovers a more fundamental truth. Though a few of the narratives are stretched thin by their heroine's caution or inertia, in the main Furman's quiet observations of lonely lives ring true, and she establishes a small universe of people looking for connection but unable to escape the bonds of self-doubt. Fans of Furman's previous novels (Tuxedo Park) and collections (The Glass House) will enjoy this work, and booksellers would do well to recommend it to readers seeking fiction that depends on adroit characterization rather than flashy denouements. (Apr.)