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Very Much like Desire

Very Much like Desire

by Diane Lefer

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lefer's socially conscious characters cope with a myriad of contemporary moral issues illuminating their foibles, prejudices and humanity in this deeply moving second collection of stories (after The Circles I Move In). The book establishes a mood of suspense as the characters wend their way into the crux of their moral dilemmas: in "Yasemin," a woman, recently dumped by her married boss, embarks on a charitable but misguided mission to Turkey to help financially the wife of a political prisoner. In "Keys to the Kingdom," a white couple go to a political meeting in the South Bronx, and the woman, Jody, feels unsafe parking their car on the street. She also feels out of place and self-conscious about her participation in the enterprise, which involves donating money to arm South African revolutionaries. Lefer does an enviable job of packing the stories with plausible detail and chooses to leave many of her conclusions ambivalent, perhaps necessarily. "Up There" concerns an anthropologist, Dr. Hadley Marshall, who's returned from six years of fieldwork in South America to make a Midwestern speaking tour. The alienated academic attracts an unstable woman named Luanne, who says to Hadley, "I will follow you.... Follow. As in worship." All the inexorably creepy elements of a Flannery O'Connor story are present, but the expected emotional wallop is never delivered. In "Mr. Norton's Wart Hog," however, Lefer fully delineates the story of a married accountant who befriends a hard-luck Filipino woman and ends up using her teenage, Americanized daughter to blunt the force of his marital and professional dissatisfaction. Despite each story's intensely political message and ethical quandary, these aspects never get heavy-handed, and Lefer's often oblique subtlety is skillfully balanced by her clear, sympathetic characterizations. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Short story collections are tricky beasts, mixing many lives in a unifying style, be the tone wry, solemn, anxious, or deadpan. In this, her second collection after The Circles I Move In, Lefer might be narrating a museum's audiotape, each story like a diorama of slightly sad, slightly jaded pleasure pioneers, those on the lonely periphery of others' passions. Her voice is good company, self-depreciatingly alert and droll—cough and you miss the humor underneath the quiet desperation. A Manhattan woman casually agrees to courier money to a Turkish prisoner's wife as if it were a blind date; a Chicago girl tries and fails to blend into a small town ethos by befriending a homeless woman; an idealistic nurse accompanies her lover, an Iowan ex-priest, to a "terrorist Tupperware" gun-buying party in the Bronx for South African militants; a lost anthropologist wanders the Dakota badlands with a sentient mental patient, both women fearing a local man and his veiled threats of abuse and punishment.

A teacher of creative writing at Vermont College and a Los Angeles native, Lefer is fearless in her compass, folding a huge map of America into small, sharp observations of the intimate lives of those dispossessed of their faith in the future. Though her imaginative leaps are confident, and her intelligence obvious, the cumulative experience of the collection is somewhat reductive, like having the same earnest conversation with a series of identical strangers at a party. Stories wander and collapse into fleeting, inconsequential gestures of isolating fatigue, denying the reader a sense of engagement, of narrative pulse. Aptly, the most vivid pieces come from first-person narrators, giving a spark of immediacy that is welcome. It is a witty poetry that knows it suffers from too much self-awareness. "My heart slapped along with the windshield wipers, making ambient contact but no headway," he says, driving through a fog of Valium, scotch, and oppressive gray skies the color of cardboard, only then seeing a flock of geese turning into a spiral of black smoke.

It's the kind of arresting moment of unearned beauty that summarizes the book, where desire and loss unspool together.

Product Details

Carnegie-Mellon University Press
Publication date:
Carnegie Mellon Series in Short Fiction
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

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