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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, May 5, 2002

Short Story Collections Ideal for Springtime Reading

Spring is a good time for short stories. I spend every non-raining, non-working minute in April and early May outside weeding, mulching, fertilizing and otherwise taming nature in my perennial beds and yard. A novel too easily tempts me to indulge in long stretches of leisurely reading. A short story collection is the perfect solution.

Ordinary Life by Elizabeth Berg (Random House, 2002).

The author of Open House (an Oprah selection) and many other fine novels has produced this warm and insightful collection.

In my favorite story, seventy-nine-year-old Mavis McPherson "locks herself in the bathroom and will not come out." She has reached the point in her life where she needs time to reflect, but it's just too expensive and bothersome to arrange a real vacation, and she doesn't want to be at loose ends in her house because she'll just keep seeing things that need to be done. So Mavis cushions the bathtub with pillows and comforters, stocks up on food, and retires to the bathroom for a week.

Her bewildered husband protests at first, but eventually cooperates with Mavis's wishes, bringing in changes of clothing and carryout food.

This story rang in my head when I recently took a week off to do some home improvement jobs. There were times I thought that locking myself in the bathroom for a retreat instead of working would have been a good idea.

A Multitude of Sins by Richard Ford (Knopf, 2002).

After hearing a UE literature professor praise Pulitzer-Prize winner Richard Ford, I was eager to sample his work.

Ford's stories are the opposite of Berg's in terms of emotional temperature. Everyone is self-serving, cold, calculating, and basically unlikable. Their daily lives are meaningless. Most are involved in extramarital affairs that are as dissatisfying as their marital relationships. It's as if Ford strips his characters to the core, and finds them wanting.

Still, Ford makes some incisive comments about human character. And he does have a wicked sense of humor. I was both unsettled and amused by "The Abyss," the story of a mismatched couple cheating on their respective spouses at a Phoenix realtors' convention who rent a car for a drive to the Grand Canyon, where judgment looms.

I plan to read his novel The Sportswriter as well as its award-winning sequel, Independence Day.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Knopf, 2001).

This is Canadian short story writer Alice Munro's tenth collection. She is considered a master of the genre.

Munro's women characters deal with the hard issues in life - childhood dreams, love, regret, responsibility, and old age. Her cover story concerns a woman who turns her dreams of romance into a reality, much to the surprise of the two sadistic young girls who had tricked her with bogus love letters.

Munro's stories are deep enough for a second, or even a third, reading.

In the Bedroom by Andre Dubus (Vintage Books, 2002).

This collection was pulled together to coincide with the critically-acclaimed movie In the Bedroom, which is based on the first story, Killings.

These stories deal with family relationships, with parents trying to be good parents and spouses and children trying to be good children. Divorced fathers plan quality time with their kids, daughters diet to please mom and win a husband, sons grow up fast, mothers make sacrifices, and parents do whatever it takes to protect their offspring.

Dubus's stories resonate with sympathy and understanding. He himself died in 1999 from injuries received in a 1986 roadside accident. While crossing the road to help the victim of an accident, he was struck by a vehicle and lost one leg and the mobility of his second as a result of his heroism.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.