From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Baxter's skill with short fiction is confirmed in this stellar collection of 23 stories, seven of which are new. The title story is deservedly a classic, and other favorites, such as "Fenstad's Mother," have gathered resonance as well, and the new stories show Baxter working a quirky beat. In each, the acutely observed real world is rocked by the exotic or surreal. In "Poor Devil," the "devils" are a self-destructive couple headed for a divorce, while, in "Ghosts," a stranger enters a young woman's house and tells her they are soul mates. She accuses him of being a devil, but his intentions are much less sinister than she imagines. "Nightfall had always brought his devils out," the narrator says in "The Old Murderer," a touching story about an alcoholic and an ex-con, each trying to get through the day. In "Royal Blue," arguably the best of the new stories, an undertow of mystery shadows a handsome young art dealer who understands that 9/11 has affected a fundamental change in his life. In Baxter's comic-melancholic world, people may be incapable of averting sadness or violence, but they survive. (Jan.) (c)
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With one notable exception, the critics labeled Baxter a “writer’s writer” (Los Angeles Times
) whose finely honed powers of observation and expert manipulation of his reader are well suited to short fiction. He skillfully distills his stories down to small but revealing moments of self-awareness, plumbing universal themes of love, duty, and “the rewards of plain everyday life.” The critics noted a peculiar apathy that afflicts many of his characters and an unsettling lack of resolution to his story lines. Nevertheless, most judged the stories worthwhile for Baxter’s elegant prose and astute characterizations. By turns uplifting and bleak, comic and heartbreaking, this new collection by “a master of the form” (Minneapolis Star Tribune
) should entertain readers who prefer technique to theatrics.