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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 02, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

THE SPECTACLE OF THE BODY by Noy Holland (Alfred A. Knopf: $20; 190 pp .) Perhaps the most frustrating kinds of short story collections to read are the uneven ones. They can not be dismissed as bad writing because obviously the author has talent, nor can they be wholeheartedly endorsed. Noy Holland's first book "The Spectacle of the Body," is such a collection.

First the good news. The centerpiece, basically a novella at 85 pages, is a true stunner. "Orbit" seems to be a kind of twisted homage to Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," right down to some of the imagery. Cissie and her little brother Orbit live in a dream-like, frightening twilight zone with no boundaries or guidance as they wait, alone in the house, for their sick mother to die. An unspecified amount of time passes, maybe months, and things fall more and more out of control. They tie a dead filly up in a tree to protect it from dogs, and bury their mother's possessions. They sleep in the garden. Animals take on a hallucinatory quality. "We had a great stash of morphine, a run of hot nights of a sweetened cast that clotted in our throats. We had gizzards. We grew scales. We had feet. We were bottom-feeders." By the end, which is expected, but still shocking, the story itself has broken boundaries in much the same way its characters did.

Unfortunately, Holland's other work isn't as effective. Her experimental style remains the same, but somehow emotional impact is missing. One wishes she had either expanded "Orbit" into a novel, or held back until her other writing was of the same caliber. Still, Holland has a real gift, and it will be interesting to see what she does next.

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