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Fiction

October 20, 1985|SHELLY LOWENKOPF

AUNT ELLA STORIES by Kenen Joseph Heise, illustrations by Jeremy Blatchley (Academy Chicago: $14.95). Ferndale, Mich., the setting of these 21 short stories, was a 5-cent trolley ride from Detroit in 1938. Vernors Ginger Ale was a nickel, and for the same amount, you could also get a large, hollow chocolate Easter bunny at Bertha's on Woodward Avenue. Unfortunately, the Ferndale of Heise's memory is dramatic light years away from, say, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, or Sinclair Lewis' Gopher Prairie. Heise's stories are as hollow as the chocolate bunny and, unlike Vernors Ginger Ale, the characters are not effervescent. The narrator of most of the stories is JoJo, "a dishwater blond with a cowlick and a fourth-hand sailor suit. My mother and dad liked me, and even my brother Paully liked me sometimes." Aunt Ella, she of the book's title, is a one-dimensional eccentric who skulks about in an old babushka, roots through rubbish heaps, and embarrasses her brother, JoJo's father. Beyond the crudely drawn full-page illustrations and Heise's linear prose lies an inchoate nostalgia, but to what effect? David Mamet provides an introduction, itself a kind of foot-shuffling embarrassment).

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