Picks and Pans Review: In Another Country

updated 09/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Susan Kenney

Described on its cover as a novel, this book has at its heart a short story that won the 1982 O. Henry Award. The book's five other stories each could stand on its own quite well too. But since all of them are told in the first person by the same narrator, a woman, Sara, they work beautifully as a "novel." Impact builds, even though some events are repeated as Sara's perspective on them changes. In the first story the narrator looks back at her 11-year-old self and remembers going with her father to a carnival freak show where, he explains, the most shocking exhibit—a girl with no legs or arms—is "done with mirrors." A short while later, when he dies abruptly of a heart attack, she believes that his death must be some kind of a similar trick. Sara's mother goes mad because of her husband's death, and years are spent in trying to deal with the mother's illness. Then Sara's husband is operated on for cancer, and a doctor tells her he has only about six months more to live. A much-beloved dog is run over in the driveway and his pitiful decline is carefully described. While the subjects of these stories are obviously grim, the effect of reading them is exhilaration at Kenney's ability to use her simple, clear prose to create moments of fiction that are instantly recognizable as truth. (Viking, $ 13.95)

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