Unsettling ambiguities characterize the determinist, chaotic, often violent world depicted in this powerful collection of 11 short stories by the author of My Father in Dreams. In the title story, a woman recalls her brief but intense affair with a marine who survived two tours of duty in Vietnam unscathed; in fact, she is attracted to him by the beauty and smoothness of his skin. But when mysterious razor slashes leave Lewis's body as scarred as his psyche, it emerges that the marine has not told his lover the truth and may not know it himself; she, too, has had a glimpse of the person she might be. Other tales are similarly haunting, such as The Man Who Died, which recounts both sides of a sexual assault case. Exploring such themes as male sexuality, addictive and codependent behavior, the rights of the mentally ill and new love among old friends, the stories all hit the mark with their depictions of characters who are devious, gullible, confused, quirky and even insane, but never unreal. Poverman's habit of recycling background material and names from tale to tale keeps the reader off balance and adds to an atmosphere in which things are seldom what they seem. (Nov.)
If there is a weakness in these 11 stories it is that Poverman's endings never quite live up to the promise of emotional impact they brilliantly build toward. In the title story a young college student/fashion model has a hypnotic attraction for a tough Marine with gray eyes and ``smooth . . . tight skin.'' She learns that his grotesque Vietnam nightmares and grisly tales are figments of a psychosis and flees in terror when she finds the razor slashes in his beautiful skin weren't inflicted by angry gamblers at all. In ``Africa,'' an art curator confronts his own sense of romance and love as he observes the tortured relationship between an itinerant German sculptor in his late 30s and Madame Bardi, 91, a once-great beauty. Sandy's dawning awareness of his homosexuality in ``On the Ocean'' leads to overt expressions of denial: through religion, drinking, affairs, then marriage to a woman with an uncanny resemblance to a former boyfriend. These involving, carefully crafted tales resonate with sexuality, relationships, and the tension between romance and love. Very highly recommended.-- Ron Antonucci, Hudson Lib. & Historical Soc . , Ohio
Poverman's fifth book (My Father in Dreams, 1989, etc.) and second collection of stories (The Black Velvet Girl, an Iowa Award- winner in 1976) is a dazzler: Wide-rangingfrom sexual abuse to psychosis, Vietnam nightmares, and the inner lives of drag queensPoverman consistently holds anguished lives up to the light and unsentimentally offers the possibility of redemption. The title story, close to novella length, takes a familiar subject that's been done almost to deatha young woman becomes involved with, and then frightened by, a self-described Vietnam vet who is violently self-destructiveand makes the familiar not only fresh but scary. The vet turns out not to be a vet at all, and the narrator's addiction to him ("he was like a drug and I couldn't get enough") turns clich‚ on its face and manages to tell a dark Conradian story about a woman who comes to see a side of herself she would prefer not to know. Likewise, "The Man Who Died" begins as a psychological mystery about a professor accused of sexual abuse, then deepens as the professor begins to doubt his own version of events. A pre-sentence hearing turns into a personal psychoanalysis in which a man who's always thought of himself as a "healer" must confront impulses and dark visions. In "Beautiful," Poverman turns what appears at first to be a glitzy story about a glamour girl into a haunting exploration of identity when the girl helps out a friend by demonstrating cosmetics and discovers how vulnerable women are, how willing to be changed. At its best, and that's often, a powerful group of stories: one of the finest collections since Christopher Tilghman's In a Father's Place.