From Publishers Weekly
This anthology presents short stories read on National Public Radio's program The Sound of Writing , hosted by Cheuse and co-produced by Marshall. There is marvelous diversity in the subject matter of these stories, most of which were written for the show. John Updike writes of a dignitary's amused visit to a football factory ("We don't make policy here, we just make footballs," the company president jokes). Louise Erdrich describes the last hours of a thin North Dakota college boy and his plump parents, trapped in a car during a snowstorm. Roy Blount Jr. tells of a family's humiliation when their mama embarks on a career as a storyteller, baring family secrets to adoring audiences. But there are some clunkers among the 38 selections. Steve Amick's story about suburbanites in the early 1960s who fear that the bomb is about to drop is stilted and overblown ("Mr. Compton, Dora's hip history teacher . . . surveys the damage the missile crisis is wreaking on so many young, fragile minds"). And several pieces end abruptly and predictably, like Robert Dunn's tale of an Elvis-like singer, which concludes: "What is the price for changing the world?"
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
These 38 stories, almost all short-shorts, were originally chosen by the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project to be published in newspapers and read aloud on ``The Sound of Writing,'' an NPR program. Solid work from a mixture of literary celebrities and relative unknowns more than make up for an overall slightness (dictated by the restricted format). The stories, limited to 2500 words, are intended, according to Marshall, to return fiction ``to the pages of Sunday magazines....'' Many of the pieces from brand-name writers are satisfying, if limited. Edward Abbey's ``Drunk in the Afternoon'' 2is an amusing sketch: ``Getting Drunk in the afternoon was something I once did on a regular weekly basis for many years.'' John Updike's ``The Football Factory'' is a densely detailed description from the point of view of a visiting dignitary; Joyce Carol Oates's ``Where Is Here?,'' a taut Kafkaesque drama, concerns a stranger who visits his childhood home and the family who now reside there. Some of the writers seem cramped by the word-count, but others, those who usually work in lyrical prose, are right at home: Rick Bass's ``Heartwood,'' about two wild boys who take to spiking trees, is typical of such pieces in the way it manages to render a closely observed instance and come to a summarizing epiphany: ``In the end, it all comes down to luck. Remember this and be grateful, be frightened.'' Since more than 2000 manuscripts were submitted to the PEN competition, luck and previous reputation had a good deal to do with what appears here. Though the short-short form is more conductive to light humor, limited effects, and luminous prose than to sea changes or tragic range, the best of these bathe the world, as Louise Erdrich's own quasimystical offering asserts, ``in a great surge of forgiving radiance.'' -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.