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Big Cats: Stories Paperback – Deckle Edge, July 6, 2005
From Publishers Weekly
In the title story of this lively, honest debut collection set in California and Oregon, two 14-year-old girls, concessions workers at a zoo, get into a fistfight outside the lions' cage. The girls aren't "big" cats yet, but they're trying, and Reinhorn captures their adolescent ebullience and sexual bravado. The adults in the remaining stories are often profoundly lonely—hungering for connection, they take or conjure it where they can. The Vietnam vet and former convict narrating "My Name" works in an old age home, where he focuses his affection on a catatonic woman who briefly wakes to call him by her son's name. In "Fuck You," a terse but morally complicated piece about the subtle abuse of adult power over children, a lonely pregnant woman coerces companionship from an adolescent Little Leaguer. In "Get Away from Me, David," Reinhorn vividly evokes an alcoholic bank manager's precariousness: barely holding up under daily stresses, including an earthquake and a dead customer, he hallucinates his dead wife and contemplates a bottle of Dayquil "while the world is murmuring alternatives." These tight and uncontrived stories bring authentic characters to vivid life. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
It's no mistake that the title of this impressive debut collection sounds very much like that of a guided-tour pamphlet at the zoo. Reinhorn ushers us through the lives of her characters, unafraid to show them in their natural, if claustrophobic, habitat, each of them anxious and pacing. Set often in a purgatorylike 1970s and delivered in prose that manages to be acerbic and beautiful all at once, these stories frequently rely on the weight of one or two moments, stretched around the characters like taffy. A Vietnam veteran tenderly nursing an old woman vividly remembers robbing a store in his dress blues. Two girls tussle on the concrete after one taunts the other with a slow-motion striptease. A troubled teenage girl is seen running on the asphalt track in her bare feet, arms spread like wings. But what's most remarkable here is Reinhorn's dialogue; it's often so perfect that you find yourself creating gestures and expressions for her characters that she never even needed to write. Annie Tully
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This collection of short stories deals with outbursts of emotions. Feelings that have been bottled up under the surface and find a moment to explode, in many different ways. Reinhorn describes a host of characters, each one is a whole entity, a round character full of different angels and many inner wounds. The stories are all disturbing in this way or another and each one can be dealt with and analyzed in detail. This, by the way, is some of my frustration with such a rich book of short stories. Each story is a world of its own. I felt it is hard to read more then one story in a sitting as they are so strong, vivid and full.
In "F--- you", a woman in some kind of personal distress that is only hinted upon picks a young boy of the road, acting, as "she should" in normal motherly situations. But somehow, although her behavior starts as seemingly appropriate, the situation turns to be awkward when she finds herself outbursting in front of this boy in her back yard pool. She now has an audience to turn her frustrations against. Although the woman does not do anything really harmful, we feel her behavior deteriorating and her way of speech seems totally out of place. This story is quite uncomfortable to the reader as many of the "not do" rules of conduct are broken and you get a picture of a woman on the edge.
"Big Cats" gives us a minute-by-minute detail of an escalation of the relationship between two teenaged girls. As the story develops we learn that each one has her reasons to team up with the other. One needs the audience and the other is drawn to the (seeming) strength the other is projecting. Once the roles seem to slightly change, hell breaks loose and they end up in a catfight in front of the lion's cage. Here is a moment of revelation for one of the girls, the narrator.
Another story, "Heights", is a story of a young woman living with her flirtatious mother and a stroke-ridden father. A very heavy feeling clings to this story, same as the two former stories; something, is clearly not right. This is not a regular, "cultured" behavior. The situation spread in front of our eyes is very disturbing, and reaches a climax again, with an outburst.
"White Dog" is the story of a woman knowing the days of her white dog are numbered. The story describes the role of the white dog in her life in what we understand to be a replacement of a child, and maybe even a replacement of a real connection with a male partner. I understand this as a story of alienation - there are hardly any names in the story. We have the woman, the white dog, the photographer or ex husband - only the Japanese drummer is sometimes referred to as "Ohici" and the fact that he receives a name can be further analyzed. It seems that the woman is sufficient directing all her love to the dog and therefore does not need to build any real relationship. The reader cannot understand what went wrong with Ohici or with her ex husband as they seem close even today, and the waste of it all is quite hard to take.
However I guess that the story I liked best in this collection is "By the time you get this" since the outburst of emotions in this story is so touching it can not leave you indifferent. Although told by a grieving mother, mourning and analyzing herself and the death of her daughter, the story is really about her connection with her maid, Lydia who is the center of the story. The maid is the real link to the dead daughter and parting with her will be parting again from the girl. The bond between the narrator and her maid is described slowly. From the beginning we understand that this is not a regular maid and that parts have been slightly changed here. The maid is the one who is in charge and she is the one who understands that she must end the unhealthy connection with her boss. The love of the narrator to Lydia and her son and their importance in her life is the center of this story and I found it to be special in many ways. The narrator is a very educated woman, whereas Lydia is a very simple person. However, the narrator finds herself drawn to Lydia's world and lets her lead the way, at least for a while.
The stories depict all of modern age problems and difficulties. They deal with people of different places and status, all suffering from very deep wounds. The stories are told with a loving eye for all people and all of human flaws.
My only comment would be that these are not always people that are easy to identify with and usually, I , as a reader, look for characters who are closer to myself or characters that are able to evoke some kind of sympathy or identification. Most of Reinhorn characters are not like that. Reinhorn deals with people who are on the extreme and most of our lives are really in between, not high and not low. All endings do not give a solution but sort of encapsulate a certain situation. On the other hand there is nothing soapy or unreal here, as painful as the stories are.
Reinhorn writes simply delicious dramas of "real life" and "real people" who are full-bodied, rich, multi-dimensional complex beings with complex stories. It is her talent that makes the complex, simple. She alternates between humor, sadness, poignancy and tenderness in a way that shouts out that she has developed her voice and speaks it with strength and commitment. I love the way her writing seeps into my consciousness and makes me live what she writes. Each story has its own drama to breathe life into the story, capturing its soul.
The title story, "Big Cats," of this collection is about two young girls who work at a zoo. They fight, attempting to be the "big cats" they aren't as yet. The author fixes her sights on the girls' minds and captures their spirit.
I love "My Name"! It is the story of a Vietnam vet who's lived in his own prison, so he understands and emphasizes with the catatonic woman he cares for and who calls him by her son's name. Though brief it is the connection the lonely man yearns for and is expressed with absolute tenderness.
Some years ago Reinhorn wrote the screenplay for the film Last Seen. Being familiar with the film it was wonderful to read the story that birthed it. It is about the mysterious disappearance of high school senior Jennifer Langsam.
Read the rest of Reinhorn's collection yourself. I don't want to give anything away. Read it and savor the flavors of life.
Reinhart has a knack for voice and characterization in that all her characters, from young girls (for example, the titular and final tales) to Vietnam Vets ("My Name") to lonely, estranged women ("The White Dog" or "F--- You") resonate with the easer. Reinhorn manages to craft fascinatingly believable characters. In fact, I often found myself wanting to hear more about certain people. Perhaps some of these stories could become seeds for future novels, Ms. Reinhorn?
Perhaps the most striking thing about all these stories is the often startling realism both in terms of dialogue and descriptions. There is a degree clarity that renders reading these tales is a bit like watching short films in an art house theatre. You can almost cast and direct them in your head! That being said, each of these stories easily stands on its own as an engrossing tale of likable characters. It's more than a "summer read", but it really is a book to enjoy.