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IN BRIEF

Fiction

November 10, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

DIFFICULTIES OF A BRIDEGROOM: Collected Stories by Ted Hughes (Picador: $20, 159 pp.). This manic collection of nine stories, written from 1954 to 1993, reveals a haunted, agonizing spirit. In each story, the narrator presents the details with convoluted precision, as if to prove that he is human. The writing is powerful, distracting, fraught, even in so simple a sentence as, "I stumbled back to camp with vague limbs, the herbs and nectars exploding their perfumes under my tread, the sun rough and fiery on my nape" or "Cars sizzle past . . . the puddles, glisten and glitter like coal."

Sex, death, destruction, fear, the sheer heavy depth of existence burn through almost every paragraph. As rich as his physical descriptions can be, clearly Hughes (poet laureate of England) has his sights set on the dark psyche, the animal nature, the animal spirit trapped by earthly customs, released only in fantasy or in killing.

In "The Head," the narrator and his brother go on a hunting trip and, in violation of local Indian lore, proceed to kill everything in sight until they are swimming in blood. The brother, in his frenzy, is mysteriously killed, and the severed head attacks the narrator repeatedly before transforming into a beautiful maiden who becomes his wife. "My wife is strange, I know. And living with such a strange woman, I have become strange too. But it can be explained," the story begins. Indeed.

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