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The Lifeguard

The Lifeguard

by Mary Morris

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It was with her stories that Mary Morris first won attention and acclaim: her first collection, Vanishing Animals, received the prestigious Rome Prize, and her second, The Bus of Dreams, was widely hailed. In this new collection, Mary Morris once again shows her great sensitivity to men and women at moments of turbulence, uncertainty and crisis in their


It was with her stories that Mary Morris first won attention and acclaim: her first collection, Vanishing Animals, received the prestigious Rome Prize, and her second, The Bus of Dreams, was widely hailed. In this new collection, Mary Morris once again shows her great sensitivity to men and women at moments of turbulence, uncertainty and crisis in their lives-and how they can reach for the unexpected and the spiritual at such times.

In the title story, a lifeguard sees his teenage mystique among the girls on the beach dissolve in a panicked moment when he cannot save a child. In "The Wall," a woman confronts her husband's first marriage, in the form of a mural on a kitchen wall that he is strangely unable to contemplate painting over. In "The Glass-Bottom Boat," a mother on her first trip abroad learns about trust through a solicitous stranger. In "The Snowmaker's Wife," a housewife left alone while her husband works long hours at a mountaintop ski resort starts to suspect his betrayal-as well as her own perceptions. In addition to these stories, which have appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Vogue, and other magazines, are two brand-new stories: "Vital Signs" tells of the consequences of a doctor bringing back to life a young woman, half-dead on the side of the road; and "Cross Word" is a wonderfully funny play on those puzzles and the people who do them.

Combining Mary Morris's consummate craft as a storyteller with her gift for dramatic travel writing, The Lifeguard is a powerful and haunting collection.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After a 12-year hiatus, novelist and travel-writer Morris (Crossroads; The Waiting Room) returns to the form that earned the Rome Prize for her debut collection, Vanishing Animals. Although the 10 stories in the new volume are set in various locales, from a ski resort to the Caribbean, all focus on the quiet crises that can rock her mainly female protagonists' middle-class existences. In "Souvenirs," an adolescent girl is finally invited to accompany her parents on their annual trip to Florida. The unraveling of her illusions about her parents (and the way she acts out her disappointment) leads to a moving rite of passage. Marital stress, skillfully rendered, is the focus of several stories. In "The Wall," a second wife tries to erase the memory of her precursor by painting over the mural in their kitchena gift from her husband's first marriageand discovers the void at the center of their relationship. In "The Snowmaker's Wife,'' a woman finds solace in an Indian myth after she realizes that her husband is having an affair. The sole male protagonist, in the title story, also experiences his vulnerability, in a potentially tragic situation. As elsewhere in Morris's fiction, occasional intrusions of the symbolic (and even supernatural) are made to seem natural and necessary. This is less true in "Losing Track," in which a visit to the site of dinosaur tracks by the parents of a runaway girl is freighted with more symbolic weight than it can bear. Such flaws do not undermine this poised and articulate collection, however. (June)
Library Journal
These stories by the author of House Arrest (LJ 4/1/96) offer a range of characters and circumstances, yet the tone and structure are always the same: a somewhat bewildered protagonist tries to deal with a situation, tension builds, actions and feelings are rationalized, and the story ends abruptly, with no satisfying denouement. Sometimes the tension is caused by supernatural forces, as in "The Wall," in which an indelible mural on a kitchen wall has a mystical effect on the narrator's husband. In other stories, the tension results from prosaic domestic drama. The most successful story, "The Glass-Bottom Boat," about a housewife on vacation with her family in Jamaica who encounters local residents with magical powers, melds the enigmatic and the commonplace. The uptight, contained lives of Morris's characters are mimicked by her compact, bland prose. For comprehensive modern fiction collections.Reba Leiding, Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst., Troy, N.Y.
School Library Journal
YAThese 10 short stories are stitched together with the common threads of personal crisis, change, and growth. All have straightforward plots and good character development. Three stories have particular appeal to YAs. In a first-person narrative, "The Lifeguard" describes sitting in his elevated chair, adored by all the young girls on the beach, and waiting for a crisis. When a toddler stops breathing, he tries everything he has been trained to do but nothing works. The child is saved by a divorce whose constant presence on the beach has both disturbed and intrigued the lifeguard. He is compelled to seek out this older woman who wordlessly embraces him and then sends him on his way. Told in retrospect and filled with precise detail, the story leaves readers to ponder how this experience influences his life. The hero of "Slices of Life" is a young pizza entrepreneur who has caring relationships with his girlfriend and his customers but not his ne'er-do-well father. In "Souvenirs," a girl begins shoplifting as she struggles with growing up and the changes that it brings. Several selections feature married women dealing with husbands and children. Some have supernatural elements. The stories are uneven in quality, but all are succinct and enjoyable. Each one ends with thought-provoking unresolved issues that are perfect for YA group discussion.Nancy Karst, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Morris's third collection (Vanishing Animals, 1975; The Bus of Dreams, 1985) shows some of the flair for yarnspinning missed in her last novel, House Arrest (1996), but repetition lessens the overall impact of the ten tales here (nine previously published).

Most of this volume's characters are poised on the cusp of a change, nowhere more so than in the title story, where a teenage lifeguard, accustomed to being the lord of all he surveys, has a rude awakening when he proves deficient in the first aid needed to save a toddler on the beach. But young male protagonists are an exception; much more common are married women (like Emily in "The Snowmaker's Wife") who learn something profound about the emptiness of their lives. Emily's husband spends his winter nights making snow at a ski resort, but when his nocturnal absences increase she begins to suspect something else; then her fear that he's stepping out with her best friend is verified at a time when she's most vulnerable. Melanie in "Losing Track," Lenore in "The Glass-Bottom Boat," and the unnamed cowboy's wife in "Around the World" all experience epiphanies when they go to the limit of what their husbands can do for them, then step beyond on their own: Melanie during an all-night vigil in Navaho land, Lenore on a Caribbean holiday when a native opens her eyes to a world she'd denied, and the cowgirl when the carnival comes along, bringing a handsome stranger to the laundromat. We don't learn what follows these personal revelations, but Morris's implication is that her characters' lives, if not completely transformed, will at least be easier to bear.

Longing and change are better personified in some situations than others here, and the marital dynamic grows stale. But there are also exquisitely revealing moments, and clearly Morris hasn't lost her touch as a story writer.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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2 MB

What People are Saying About This

Charles Baxter
The stories are quite disarmingly complex, while keeping up an appearance of clarity and straightforwardness...it's a fine book.

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