Perhaps like olives or Brussels sprouts, minimalist fiction is an acquired taste. Flat, telegraphed accounts of lives so ordinary as to be practically invisible are the provinces of the minimalist writer, and in such stripped-down environments, one misstep is enough to send a story spiralling into the abyss of bad writing that is both affected and ridiculous. Fortunately, writer Janet Kauffman has an excellent sense of balance. In earlier collections, she has written eloquently, if sparely, of the inarticulate lives of farm families; a farmer herself, her hardscrabble stories are as real as the earth her characters tilled. In her short-story collection Characters on the Loose
, Kauffman has decided to venture from the starkly real into the experimental.
In "26 Acts in 26 Letters," Kauffman presents an erotic alphabet, describing letters performing various sexual acts--complete with illustrations. In "Signed Away," she imagines Emily Dickinson on a bike trip. Not all of the stories in Characters on the Loose are quite as unusual as these, and several are vintage Kauffman. There's enough of the old Kauffman and the new in this collection to satisfy both her die-hard fans and those readers unafraid of something different.
From Library Journal
Kauffman here continues to employ the innovative prose that made her previous writings (e.g., The Body in Four Parts, LJ 9/1/93) so enticing. Aptly named, this collection is less about place than about people. The characters share a deep sense of intimacy, presented without heavy reliance on context that readers are thus invited to imagine. Some stories feature characters with simple idiosyncrasies, such as a boy who can write with both hands or a woman who continues relationships with deceased loved ones in her dreams. Others reveal a thoughtful use of Kauffman's lucid prose, as when a naive young mother burying her dead infant observes that "the dirt is gravely." At times humorous, sad, or sexually charged (the most original tale narrates erotic moments between letters of the alphabet), these stories have the rare ability to describe subtle emotion within the minds of selected characters. Recommended for all libraries.?Judith A. Akalaitis, Chicago, Ill.
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