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House Fires (Iowa Short Fiction Award) by…
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House Fires (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

by Nancy Reisman

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0877456925, Paperback)

Does the world really need yet another book of short stories about families in crisis? If the author in question is Nancy Reisman, the answer is yes. The winner of the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award, House Fires is the work of a gifted young writer quietly pushing the boundaries of domestic realism. In the title story, for instance, she intercuts the sureties of film criticism with scenes of a family falling into chaos after a daughter's death:
I know why theorists now write about seduction and desire. And I know why they want us to wake up, to see the seams in films, to remember that images and sounds are pasted together. How else can we keep from tumbling, blindly, into fantasy?... And yet for me there is still the dream of making internal life visible. Of finding characters I can believe in.... There is the dream of wholeness. The dream of reconciliation. And there is my desire for a simple plot, for the unity that never quite arrives in daily life, for true closure. These days, I look for the sort of closure that is not false and is not death. Is there such a thing?
In another's hands, these allusions would verge on the self-conscious; in Reisman's, the language of film is an intrinsic part of how her character frames--and thus understands--her world. Fiction's closure is false, she seems to suggest, but it is also necessary. There's little else we can do after tragedy but create meaning where there is none to find.

Three loose groupings of stories follow the compressed, cinematic anguish of the title story. The first, called the "Buffalo Series," examines the complicated emotions between siblings in an upstate New York Jewish family; the less successful second group limns a series of young, aimless lives along the "Northeast Corridor"; and in the "Jessie Stories," a would-be beatnik goes off to Harvard, runs away to San Francisco, and eventually finds happiness with a nice Jewish girl. Reisman's vision of family can be bleak; this collection includes what are perhaps some of the most God-awful domestic dinners on record. (Most notably, the holiday meal of the aptly titled "Sharks," in which the protagonist Matt's stepmother makes a pass at him in the kitchen while his father glowers on the couch, "half-asleep or enraged, Matt thinks, both look the same on Charles.") Yet throughout, Reisman casts a compassionate eye on even her most unsympathetic characters. It's difficult to find heroes or villains here--only characters you can believe in and internal life made visible. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:30 -0400)

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