Picks and Pans Review: Places in the World a Woman Could Walk

updated 02/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Janet Kauffman

"The day the tornado hit Morenci was the day Lady Fretts finally put her mind to the slaughter of Susie Hey Susie and her Babies. I said good. I said do. Enough of holdover, mournful faces." Morenci is a small, fictional Midwestern town, Susie Hey Susie is an old, dried-up cow who has outlived her usefulness, Lady Fretts is a strong-minded farm widow. That passage is the beginning of the title story in an all-too-slim collection of short fiction. The stories have appeared in such places as Vanity Fair and Northwestern's Tri-Quarterly, but this is the first book by Kauffman, who lives with her husband and two children in Hudson, Mich, and who writes in a way that makes English seem lovely, full of poetry and clear truth. Her stories contain few dramatic events. The running theme concerns people leaving, or thinking about leaving, rural towns in Michigan and Ohio for the big city. Meanwhile, a farm woman and her chickens stalk a giant rat. A new housekeeper from Akron teaches a boy how to grow potatoes in a tire. A beauty-shop operator tries to decide what hairstyle can best help a friend who's trying to change her life. Kauffman gets self-consciously cryptic at times, but her writing is direct, affectionate, never patronizing. A man who boasts that he has been to Detroit tries to woo a divorcée. Preening over how well he maintains his white pickup truck, he muses, "Sometimes you can find a girl who appreciates minor devotions, attention to the simple mechanics of good times." A woman describes her relationship with a man: "We walk; we make the slowest and longest love in the state. It's a love like the care of the dead, like the last wash—full of pity." What more can anyone ask of a writer than that she make her readers care what happens to her characters? (Knopf, $11.95)

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