Reviews of the first 50 pages of local fiction releases.
Post: A Fable
By Hilary Masters
(BkMk Press, 274 pp., $16.95)
Readers of Masters' previous novel, the soberly realistic Elegy for Sam Emerson, might be unprepared for the ludic burst of invention that is his 10th. It's set seemingly a few months into what might be an alternate past, or an alternate future. Your narrator is B. Smith, a bureaucrat assigned to track down the mysterious Leo Post, outspoken foe of a massive highway project -- and also the son-in-law of the late New York governor who proposed it. But Post lives on a fortress-style island on the upper Hudson, with people who appear to be prisoners, and he might even be one himself.
The deeper Smith digs, the weirder things get: This satiric novel traffics in long-buried murder plots, bizarre family histories, the demise of the passenger pigeon and the fate of a man named Pickett Sneat, who's encased in a full-body brace. Its chief targets include politics and literary infighting; its delightful jokes include a prison poet's collection called Songs from Sing Sing. I kept thinking of Fitzgerald's "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz": the hothouse setting, the parodic, slightly science-fictional air and the headful of pointed absurdity.
By Jim Ray Daniels
(Michigan State University Press, 145 pp., $19.95)
The book's no-bones subtitle, "More Tales of the Motor City," telegraphs that Daniels is doing what he's always done: illuminating the lives of working folk in his hometown, Detroit. But in the first four of these 10 short stories, there's little predictable about either his approach or his characters.
In the seriocomic title entry, a lonely, fatherless teen-ager discovers a kind of redemption in learning others' secrets. In "Hurting a Fly," the emotionally distant narrator, an adult woman, recalls a terrible but formative passage of her youth. "Clown, Drown" is a dark comedy about professional floppy-shoes types, written first-person, as a community-college English assignment.
Yet Daniels seems at his best, and most lyrical, writing about characters who are the least articulate. Opening story "Candy Necklace," for instance, is a heartbreaking coming-of-age narrative about a hard-luck kid who hates what she has but can't name what she desires: "She wanted to buy a ticket on darkness and let it take her on a long ride, but she had no currency recognized by night."