The Seven-Year Atomic Make-Over Guide: And Other Stories

The Seven-Year Atomic Make-Over Guide: And Other Stories

by Christine Bell
     
 

From the admired author of Saint and The Perez Family come stories to touch the heart and mind alike, resonant with the sense of magic in everyday life and the generous way with character that are the hallmarks of Christine Bell's writing. In "Mockingbird," the one sound sleeper in a family of insomniacs recounts the travails of being married to a woman whose quest… See more details below

Overview

From the admired author of Saint and The Perez Family come stories to touch the heart and mind alike, resonant with the sense of magic in everyday life and the generous way with character that are the hallmarks of Christine Bell's writing. In "Mockingbird," the one sound sleeper in a family of insomniacs recounts the travails of being married to a woman whose quest for a good night's rest drives her to ever more maddening quirks of behavior, and then into the arms of another man. "A Pillow and a Rock" invites us to imagine what may really have happened in the Presley household on the night Elvis and his stillborn (or was he?) twin brother came into the world, from the perspective of a worn-out country midwife faced with a seemingly insoluble dilemma: what to do with a motionless baby who won't cry, but won't die either? In "Cliff from Chicago, Annie McDermott, and Me," a woman finds her thoughts and feelings trapped in the space of what-might-have-been, when the muggers she escapes by a lucky accident kill the next woman they see. "The Good Thief" allows us to share the life chances of an ambitious young woman on the make, and shows us the strange consequences of thinking you're tougher than you really are. In the title story, we watch with a laugh in our throats and a growing sense of wonder and sympathy as the narrator sells the made-up story of her royal relatives to the tabloids and suffers her first broken heart. "Mercy" introduces us to two elderly women now retired in Florida - an adulteress from the Bronx and a faithful wife from Brooklyn - and the source of their remarkable bond years before in a snowbound bowling alley in Queens.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bell's first collection of short fiction (after the novels Saint and The Perez Family) aims for the unsure and troubled core of contemporary life but doesn't always hit the mark. The first few stories are talky and undefined, lacking in vivid scenes, especially in comparison to the carefully imagined "Mercy," the collection's penultimate tale. In that story, Sophie, a woman in a nursing home, remembers a lifelong friendship with Thenia, the woman who comes to visit her every Thursday. The chronicle of their younger days, and of Thenia's difficult marriage and subsequent love affair with a man named Stanislaus, unfolds with admirable understatement ("Once I asked her if Stanislaus was a good lover and she told me that he was a kind man"). Successful, too, is the playful title tale, which spoofs tabloid newspapers, T-shirt slogans and suburban romance as a woman accidentally feeds information to a national rag called the Intra-Star. This level of short-story skill, however, is not always evident in the collection's seven other narratives. Many are too brief or lack the detail necessary to create emotional resonance. Others, such as "Pine Lake," which features a narrator speaking from the grave (more precisely, the bottom of a lake), rely mostly on gimmicks. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
Bell follows her two novels (Saint, 1985; The Perez Family, 1990) with a first collection of nine stories that limn the quirks and quandaries of the human heart with sympathy and a wry sense of the absurd.

The characters here come from the striving lower class where respectability, while often desired, must always contend with somber economic realities and unexpected tragedy. In the title story, a young woman living with her handicapped aunt and their maid, believing that every seven years we change the atoms of our body, is ready for "real First Love" again. She finds and loses it but along the way makes money by feeding false gossip about royalty to the tabloids. Another tale, "A Pillow and a Rock," gives Elvis Presley a twin brother, presumed dead at birth but saved by the midwife who gave him to a childless couple. In "Nashville Night," a still-grieving mother recalls the summer she nursed her dying daughter, who wasn't exactly "mean but was still a long way from the sweetness that invites disease." Saved by a stranger from a marauding gang who later kill a woman at the same place, a wife and mother (in "Cliff from Chicago, Annie McDermott, and Me") can't forget the sheer randomness of the incident. The young woman protagonist of "A Good Thief," sentenced to do community service at a home for the retarded, doesn't exactly reform but learns after a bungled robbery with one of the inmates in tow that she "wasn't as good a thief as she thought." And in a whimsical change of pace, "Mockingbird" relates how a noted sound sleeper lost and then regained his wife, who had left him to find a good night's rest.

Affecting and unpretentiously original: a quiet delight.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393039450
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/28/1996
Pages:
100
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.83(d)

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