What a marvelous writer Charles Baxter is. His prose is luminous, his imagery surprising, and the stories he tells are bottomless in their depth. Readers who have not already had the good fortune to make this writer's acquaintance in earlier works of fiction such as Shadow Play, Harmony of the World,
and others have a rare treat in store for them in his latest collection of short stories, Believers.
Here, in "The Cures for Love," Ovid returns from the dead to offer advice to a young woman whose lover has left her, while in "Kiss Away" an urban genie grants another young woman a wish for her boyfriend's love--a wish that proves double- edged. The collection's title novella, "Believers," is a son's account of his father, a former priest who "was vacated of his faith" when he met the woman he would one day marry.
As this novella and the eponymous collection suggest, faith is at the crux of all these stories--lost faith, lack of faith, transient faith. Belief in God or in one's lover or in oneself, whatever shape it assumes, is the essential quality Baxter's characters seek, and sometimes find. These stories demand more than one reading, and they will, with each revisiting, yield some new and telling insight that makes you wonder that you never noticed it before.
From Kirkus Reviews
No one will ever accuse Baxter of literary frivolity--and that's the problem. In these eight stories, even the most casual events come bathed in sociopolitical gloss, often to the detriment of Baxter's modest narrative instincts. ``Believers,'' the novella that takes up a large part of this volume, strives for world-historical significance to explain one man's loss of faith: the narrator's father, a former Catholic priest who was seduced from his bumpkin modesty in the Midwest by a couple of northeastern smarties, a Protestant husband and wife who aspired to be America's answer to the Cliveden set--witty and urbane fascists, with oodles of dough and a fancy estate in Michigan. The narrator's frustration is simple: He was conceived as a direct result of apostasy and abandoned celibacy. Such clear and easy ironies abound in Baxter's remaining stories as well. In ``The Next Building I Plan to Bomb,'' a seemingly bland (and heterosexual) midwestern banker finds a threatening message on a piece of paper and decides to act out his own need to be dangerous by engaging in unsafe sex with a young man. Baxter's well-written narratives are distinguished by such surprises--the odd revelation in an apparently ordinary life, like the neighbor who may or may not be a child molester/killer (``Time Exposure''); the happily-in- love young slacker who isn't sure whether her boyfriend is a woman beater or not (``Kiss Away''); and the married father who acts like a fool over his first wife, whom he hasn't seen since she left him over a decade ago (``Flood Show''). Linked by their underlying concern with the forms of passion, these stories are best exemplified by ``The Cures For Love,'' a relatively modest tale of a classics teacher who finds solace in Ovid. Baxter's banal commentary about America as mouthed by his characters is slightly more endurable than those same characters' tendency to write things like ``sadness'' on grocery lists. A fine writer is here tried (tired?) and true. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.