Picks and Pans Review: The Next New World

updated 02/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Bob Shacochis

The eight stories in this book, variously published in Esquire, Playboy, Paris Review and other journals, share no common setting, no single spirit. They do compose a new world where accounts are settled and people come to terms with individual losses. Consider Col. Taylor Coates in "Where Pelham Fell." He is a 20th-century old man "recuperating from the shingles and a number of years of puzzling spiritual fatigue," but thanks to a fascination with a Civil War battlefield, he discovers the bones of the ancient soldiers who captivate him. The situation, says the narrator, is "an opportunity renewed by destiny." A similar opportunity knocks for the protagonist in "Stolen Kiss." Kiss marks are found mysteriously imprinted upon a darkly stained wooden post in this effective portrait of a Washington, D.C., office worker who, in search of solace, becomes a handyman at a beach resort. Perhaps the most involving tale is "I Ate Her Heart." Told by a blues harp player, this dingily comical story evokes Starlene, a woman who "smelled like a lime tree and had legs like a movie star." Shacochis, winner of a 1985 American Book Award for his collection Easy in the Islands, is a remarkable storyteller, willing to take risks and grace difficult topics with a sensitive vitality. "Celebrations of the New World," for example, focuses on a man with Alzheimer's disease, while "The Trapdoor" turns, in part, on the thoughts of a ship captain who is watching a 17th-century performance of Hamlet. From such daring and craft comes prose capable of both fantastic revelation and familiar observations. It reveals a transcendent new place, a world of peace beyond stasis and of hope beyond loss. (Crown, $16.95)

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