Picks and Pans Review: Drunk with Love

updated 12/01/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/01/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Ellen Gilchrist

The author's 1984 book of stories, Victory Over Japan, won the American Book Award. Her new collection is at its best when the stories are about Rhoda, a character who has appeared in earlier Gilchrist fiction. Rhoda is a tough-talking little girl who falls off a horse in "Nineteen Forty-One," and in "The Expansion of the Universe" she is a high school student suffering a first love. In "Adoration" Rhoda has married at 19 and dropped out of school, pregnant. In "Anna, Part I" the heroine is an unmarried writer, highly successful, who has had an affair with a married doctor. She is disgusted with herself, in fragments that are not quite sentences: "Great swamps of sentimentality stretching out in three directions behind her. In front a sea of cliché, above, the maudlin skies, nothing to breathe, not a molecule of air that hasn't carried a million love songs from one radio station to another." In the title story a wealthy man, who owns a bookstore in San Francisco, is hopelessly in love with a young woman who is absolutely wrong for him; she's irresponsible and pregnant, perhaps by another man. There is an earthquake and an act of heroism, and still nothing can be resolved. Gilchrist's characters are often careless about where they bestow their affections. Maybe that's what makes them both endearing and exasperating. Her writing however is better at isolated moments than it is as a whole. Gilchrist is incapable of the universality of Eudora Welty (one of her teachers) or the firm control of Ann Beattie or the sheer beauty and truth of Alice Munro. For the most part Gilchrist's stories end up seeming rather conventional, too much like old-fashioned women's fiction. (Little, Brown, $15.95)

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