SOME SOUL TO KEEP by J. California Cooper (St. Martin's Press: $14.95; 211 pp.).
In this third volume of stories by a prolific playwright, the stories and their narrators are lusty, touching and wise. Each of the five long stories is about a black woman who suffers the deepest deprivations of poverty and loss, loneliness, false friends and false men. With only determination and a capacity to love, she finds material comfort and eventual sexual fulfillment with a good man.
As affecting as these stories are individually, however, their strong similarities make them detract from one another, each story after the first giving a sense of deja vu. The narrators also moralize too much on the meaning of their lives. Toward the end of "Sisters of the Rain," the narrator says, "It rains in everybody's life. And some people don't never get a rainbow, but some people do." More than a page later, she continues, "And you know when the rainbow comes, don't you? Why . . . after the rain!" In her author's note, Cooper says, ". . . I am reaching out to write a novel. . . . On this journey through my imagination, these long-short stories came to me." The stories fall somewhere between offering neither the concision and focus of stories, nor the amplitude of detail and incident of a novel. We await the coming novel.