Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

THE NARRATIVE ARTS

PRAYING FOR RAIN By Chris Spain (Capra Press: $16.95; 126 pp.)

October 14, 1990|MICHAEL HARRIS

Seven of the 12 short stories in this collection are set in the Great Plains states, two in Brooklyn, one in California, one in Florida and one in Latin America. There are flashbacks to Vietnam and World War II. Four of the stories involve institutions for the retarded or the mentally ill. The main characters are young men, or old men remembering when they were young. Deaths and injuries figure prominently: maimings, blindings, political "disappearances."

A journalistic summary like this is exactly what you don't get at the beginning of a Chris Spain story. It's what you have to piece together yourself out of scraps of dialogue and description, half slang and half poetry. Slowly it dawns on you that the space shuttle Challenger has just blown up above a couple of fishermen who plan to market the raining debris; that the death squads have buried people wearing Mickey Mouse T-shirts just outside the hacienda where rich kids lounge by the pool; that the pretty girl at the Texas school is an inmate, just like the Vietnam vet in the wheelchair and the new boy who thinks he's a plane.

The oblique approach works well for Spain. Like the teen-agers in "Praying for Rain" who hunt trophy trout with dynamite, young writers tend to tackle the Big D crudely and directly. Spain sneaks up on it with humor, with homely details of ranch work, even with the wanton destructiveness that counterpoints the innocence of his characters, one of whom says: "There is never anything we can do to save ourselves. . . . All of us always are dying of diseases that we have no immunities for."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|