The seven stories in this first collection by the author of the highly praised novel, The Northern Lights , are inhabited mostly by eccentric loners. In the '40s, a renegade pilot of the title story falls in love with a woman in a kissing booth, and for 20 years remains obsessively devoted--though she marries someone else--until they achieve an oddly satisfying relationship living in rooms across from each other in the eponymous hotel. A young man in charge of a remote Canadian railroad station, the narrator of ``Jenny Aloo'' watches an Eskimo woman die in a blizzard, clinging to the misdelivered jukebox she believes houses the spirit of her missing son. In anoth er story, the second engineer on a Vermont milk train in 1912 wakes up in a pool of milk after a crash; disbelieving, he hears the chief engineer, who is dying in the cab, tell him to marry the coal shoveler's widow after his rescue. ``Laughing and Crying'' features a boy who watches his first 3-D movie in Indiana while his mother marches outside picketing the film as a ``Commie plot.'' Although these diverse tales are provocative and distinguished by Norman's ability to transmute the circumstances of daily lives into exotic encounters, his talent seems better suited to the novel's longer form. (Aug. )
In this collection, Norman discloses a unique talent for capturing the essence of ordinary people, the fingerprint swirl that makes each of us distinctive. In the title story, a careless man who is booted out of the RCAF for having stupidly caused a training plane to crash falls in love with a woman at a kissing booth who refuses to kiss him when he identifies himself. His unrequited passion motivates him for the rest of his life. ``Whatever Lola Wants'' is about Harry, an uprooted sound engineer, who presently runs a drive-in movie in Vermont. His wife Lola, a one-time bit player, wants to see the movie she once made in Hollywood. Harry gets a copy, and though it is mid-winter and snowing, runs it for Lola's birthday. In this story, as in others, Norman shows us the small victories that may be snatched from defeat. The author's first novel, The Northern Lights, was nominated for a National Book Award.-- Marcia Tager, Tenafly, N.J.