Abbott's sixth collection of short stories (Living After Midnight, 1991, etc.) doesn't stray far from the terrain of his previous volumes. The eight pieces are set largely in the Southwest, and focus on baffled, essentially decent middle-aged men (many of them veterans of the Vietnam war) suffering from several kinds of severe internal turbulence. In "Wet Places At Noon," Eddie, a refugee from the middle class, is struggling, with the help of his lover, to construct firewalls in his life to hold back the madness that keeps threatening to erupt. In "On Tuesday Nothing, On Wednesday Walls," Harry, reluctant to start over, maneuvers desperately (and ingeniously) to remain a part of his bemused ex-wife's life. Women in these stories spend their time reacting to the frenzied hijinks of their husbands or lovers, sometimes, as in "Wet Places At Noon," being drawn into the contests their men are absorbed in, and at other times, as in "On Tuesday Nothing," good-humoredly keeping themselves at arm's length from the action. In some tales they are largely absent: Billy, the protagonist of "The Human Use of Inhuman Beings," despite a serene marriage, discovers that the most intimate relationship in his life remains his longstanding acquaintance with an angelwho only appears to Billy to announce the deaths of loved ones. All of these stories are narrated in the invigorating prose that has become Abbott's trademark, mingling the tang and vigor of regional speech with sly humor and a jaunty, startling cadence.
Too rich, perhaps, for some tastes, but fiction with a vigor, intelligence, and rueful wit sorely lacking from the work of many of Abbott's contemporaries.