National Book Award nominee Schutt (Florida; Nightwork) writes with startling beauty and frustrating restraint in 11 searing stories that reveal less than they artfully decline to reveal. A young American couple living in England find themselves pulled apart by desire for others (she for an unnamed "girl"; he for no one identified) in "Young"; in "Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful," four college students experiment with drugs and grapple with messy relationships ("[I]n this way it started. She and George. Alice and George. She and Alice and George. She and Alice and George and Sam"). In "Darkest of All," a mother with a carefully maintained over-the-counter drug habit visits her troubled son in rehab; later, getting her back rubbed by her younger, less screwed-up son, she longs for the idyllic days of their youth: "Jean had lifted the wisps of hair from off their baby scalps, marked as the moon, with their stitched plates of bone yet visible, the boys; how often she had thought to break them." In "They Turn Their Bodies Into Spears," a rich octogenarian welcomes his anorexic granddaughter to his island home, witnessing in her the same sadness he saw in her absent mother. Schutt's plots can be thin, but her prose is extraordinary. (June)
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Schutt, a 2004 National Book Award finalist for her novel, Florida, traces the tracks of time in her second story collection, tracks leading to loneliness, illness, or simply memories of a happier past. A mother whose sons are pulling away from her, one in a rehab facility, remembers them as little boys at the beach, their hair warm and "fragrant of weeds and sea." A college student coming down from a high experiences photolike glimpses of her Mexican abortion. A woman visits her mother--"belted in her chair and slumped"--in a nursing home and struggles to conjure up some happy family memories, while her mother's memories of her own sixteenth year are surprisingly vivid. The narrator of "Winterreise" quotes Thoreau to herself as she tries to come to grips with the impending death of a lifelong friend, 56 now and alone, who has already chosen a dress and pearls for "the viewing." These 11 stories are the perfect vehicles for Schutt's blunt and unadorned style, her perceptive illumination of crystallized moments. Deborah Donovan
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