From Publishers Weekly
Though South Africa-born Kohler (Cracks; Children of Pithiviers; etc.) sets her stories in France, Italy, South Africa and the U.S., these 12 spare tales evoke not place but time-often a single, terrible moment. The 11-year-old narrator of "Underworlds," forced to stay at boarding school on Sunday as punishment for the "disgrace" of talking back, is horrified to find herself the object of a teacher's desires. In "Casualty," a woman's infidelity may be idle gossip for the servants, but it has terrible consequences for her daughter. In these stories and others, the fate of the main characters is left unclear, as Kohler, with mixed results, allows readers only the briefest glances into their lives. In the masterful, multilayered "Baboons," a man becomes enraged when his wife fails to react to the news that he is having an affair with another man (he "thinks that if she... had sobbed instead of speaking French, if the baboon had not jumped onto the bonnet of his car, he would probably have taken her into his arms"). One of Kohler's themes is the dark side of cause and effect: fathers are dead, so children must be responsible for their mothers; husbands cheat, so their wives look for lovers. While her prose can be lyrical, and the premise of each story is compelling (a woman picking up a stranger the day before her wedding; a mother and her three daughters angling for an inheritance with the help of spiked lemonade), these tales-of betrayal, adultery and doubt-are sometimes less than fully realized.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Many of these stories are about well-off travelers far from home--in hotels and cafes in Paris or Rome, on the road in the South African bush--but the characters take their secrets with them. The surprising twists in plot reveal how those who think they are in charge discover that they don't know where they are. In "Baboons," the smug surgeon in his Mercedes is suddenly smashed by the animals on the side of the road. In the best story, "Death in Rome," a busy, self-important writer takes time off from her work to spend time with her needy girlhood friend, who gets revenge with an intimate revelation. Kohler, a South African writer now living in New York City, has won the O. Henry Award and other prizes for her stories. Her themes of displacement and alienation cut to the heart as she quietly strips away the tales we tell ourselves in order to go on from day to day. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved