Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

Discoveries

LEAP By Terry Tempest Williams; Pantheon: 340 pp., $25

DRESSING UP FOR THE CARNIVAL; Stories By Carol Shields; Viking: 198 pp., $23.95

DIAMOND DUST By Anita Desai; Mariner: 208 pp., $12 paper

EATING NAKED, Stories By Stephen Dobyns; Metropolitan: 276 pp., $23

May 07, 2000|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

Of Faith. Leap of faith. Expect nothing less than to catch Terry Tempest Williams, author of "Refuge," writer of and about nature and spirit and art and religion, in midair. In this meditative book, Williams travels several times to the Prado, to see Hieronymus Bosch's painting, "El jardin de las delicias." She examines every corner of the triptych, depicting Paradise, Hell and Earthly Delights, and the painting inspires her to travel into the metaphorical desert to find a new faith. When writing about nature and art, she ponders creativity; in writing about the way humans treat the Earth, she ponders destruction. Now she flies at even higher altitudes, asking: "How are we to see through the lens of our own creative destruction?" (of the Earth). She imagines a religion that is "another form of natural selection along the path to spiritual evolution." She builds on observations of "El jardin de las delicias" and of the world. The observations lead to revelations in the mystical tradition. The revelations lead to change: the leap. "This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs," she decides, "to question, explore . . . walk, run, dance, play . . . embrace the questions, be wary of answers."

DRESSING UP FOR THE CARNIVAL; Stories By Carol Shields; Viking: 198 pp., $23.95

Breaking and fixing are what Carol Shields does, in these stories and in her most famous book, "The Stone Diaries." Shields breaks up familiar notions--of farmers, of housewives, of happiness--and puts them back together. What she writes about is another matter: the millions of heartbreaking ways that people try to be good and happy. Whether they succeed or fail is less interesting to Shields than the woman, for example, who in her youth loves things and people who are second-best, and the man who can't believe she loves him; the women dying each in their individual ways from love and the handrails they choose; or the man whose step and manner and being are transformed by his purchase of a mango. The reader is given a vision of happiness--maybe temporary, maybe based on nothing more than a mango. A boy in the end of "Soup du Jour" says the word "celery" out loud, "transforming the word into a brilliantly colored balloon that swims and rises and overcomes the tiny confines of the ordinary everyday world to which, until this moment, he has been condemned."

DIAMOND DUST By Anita Desai; Mariner: 208 pp., $12 paper

Understanding India surely is within our grasp. We can fold our arms around the contradictions and compromises and sheer color, the regular appearance of the spiritual and of grace in everyday life (much of which is squalor but some of which is more bejeweled than any other civilization). Anita Desai's method in these stories set, except for a few, in modern India, is to focus on the quirkiest of characters in hopes that the light emanating from them, from the outskirts of normalcy, will illuminate the entire continent. And it does. A man's absurd love for his dog; a woman's absurd adoration of a former mentor, a man who hovers over his own death; a family stopped on the road to Simla by a truck driver who will not move his truck. Each story ends in a pause--a quiet moment before the teeming momentum of daily life swallows up Desai's carefully chosen characters again.

EATING NAKED, Stories By Stephen Dobyns; Metropolitan: 276 pp., $23

Stephen Dobyns has a genius for finding and imagining stories. Not that he needs pyrotechnics to conceal a poor ear. No, with Dobyns you get it all--fantastic plots and dazzling writing. He has the deadpan humor of Nick Hornby or Magnus Mills: "He looked," Dobyns describes a man who wants to kill himself, "like a guy who hadn't heard any funny stories for a long time." It has always been true that in short stories a writer must inject the characters into your psyche quickly, but Dobyns does this from their molten core, rather than from the outside--where they live, what they wear, et cetera. In the screamingly funny title story, the main character, Bob, enters "one of life's time-out periods." He drives a girl whose car has crashed avoiding a deer that Bob's car has hit to the house of her boyfriend, who wants to kill himself. The three strangers share a venison dinner, which Bob suggests they eat naked by way of celebrating life's turning points. In "Part of the Story," a mother, who gave up her five children for adoption, grudgingly allows them all to visit her ("Their neediness oppressed her. . . .") and spins hilarious stories about their various fathers. Many of these stories are about marriage and betrayal. Many end with the whimper that follows the bang.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|