Decently done but unremarkable debut collection, the recipient of
this year's Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Most of the
characters here - many of them Mormons, almost all living in the
American Southwest - are either sick or connected intimately with
sickness or tragedy. How they face the distress at hand becomes a
measure of their character. Cecil, the nose surgeon of "Howard
Johnson's House," has to carry on with his daily routine of facial
reconstructions even as his mother Edna lies dying, beyond his
assistance. Anna and Nicole, the two teenaged cancer patients of
"Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose," carry on with all the normal
occupations of adolescence - crushes on boys, preparations for
dances, fantasies about their futures - from the oncology ward of
the hospital where they've met. "A Good Paved Road" describes a
religious dilemma: a high school girl tries to convert her
boyfriend to the Mormon Church she grew up in, then loses her faith
when she fails. And in "Victor's Funeral Urn," a recently divorced
wife who's contemplating a reunion with her ex-husband happens upon
an urn containing what appear to be human ashes on the side of a
road - and then tries to locate the owner. "Jumping" finds a woman
still haunted by a skiing accident 33 years after the fact. The
best of the lot is the title story, describing the dual traumas of
a husband being treated for thyroid cancer and of the wife whose
exhaustion over his disease prompts her to leave him. Clyde knows
her world well and manages to offer a fair representation of it,
but there's a lack of depth to her sketches that make them seen
like just that - quick studies. (Kirkus Reviews)
A baby's funeral urn has been lost. A dog has bitten off a girl's
nose. The abandoned butterflies have been set free. The doctor has
diagnosed a fatal illness. Mary Clyde's stories explore not so much
what has happened already but what happens next. Sometimes the most
difficult part of life's misfortunes is trying to find a way to go
on. Characters ask, How does it matter? What does it mean to
survive? These questions are explored by men, women, teenagers, and
children in an environment that is hostile not only to the heart
but also to the body. Illness bristles through the book, magnifying
emotional undercurrents. In "Howard Johnson's House, " a plastic
surgeon tries to summon up unfelt love for his mother when
confronted with her diagnosis of leukemia. Two teenage girls
survive surgery and the prospect of never eating popcorn again in
"Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose." A diagnosis of cancer tears a
marriage apart and then pulls it back together again in the title
story, "Survival Rates."
The desert Southwest is a constant presence in these stories,
populated with frightening javelinas, black widows, coyotes that
eat cats, boulders that can crush cars. The characters are
pioneers, some of whom share the author's Mormon heritage. They
find that despite modern times, western landscapes are often harsh,
always indifferent, and far more patient than the people who
tenuously inhabit them.
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