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How Aliens Think: Stories by Judith Grossman (Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction) Hardcover – August 20, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Though she sometimes errs on the side of glib irony and her more formally ambitious stories may read like academic in-jokes, in the best and most straightforward of these 12 short narratives Grossman (Her Own Terms) achieves a polished balance of deadpan wit and understated emotional intensity. In precise, economical prose, Grossman depicts a generation of transatlantic driftersA mostly academics and writers who fled their modest postwar English subdivisions for the U.S. as soon as they came of age in the early '60sAand their self-sacrificing, unfulfilled, working-class parents. Yet Grossman's characters are alien not so much because they are adrift in a foreign country or members of an inferior class, but because they are mute observers, shut off from the world by their own inability to communicate honestly with those around them. In "'Rovera,'" a young wife choked by need and resentment can only communicate with her indifferent husband through dumb gestures. "She handed him the glass and stroked across his shoulders, meaning all the time, See how I love you, Robby?" The properly restrained family of "A Wave of the Hand" is so reticent that no one ever discusses the obvious and startling fact that the narrator's "father" is actually a woman passing as a man. In the unsentimental "Death of a Mother," the narrator returns to her childhood home in England after 20 years abroad and finds, among her recently deceased mother's otherwise minimal possessions, 20 years' worth of her own airy and shamefully disingenuous letters. If some of her tropes and narrative tricks are familiar, Grossman slyly acknowledges as much, and the strength of her best stories is not so much in their revelations as in the frank, intelligent, unassuming characters who populate them. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A first collection by English novelist Grossman (Her Own Terms, 1988), whose expatriate view of the US is fresh enough to distract a reader from the drabness of her pedantic prose and academic settings. University life is no ones idea of glamournot to mention a good timeand it provides much less in the way of good fiction than one might expect: Most of Grossmans characters labor in the academic vineyards of America and Britain, but theyre a long way from Lucky Jim. Clara Diamant, the postmodern scholar in The Two of You, is the daughter of a rabbi whose traditionalist aversions toward female scholarship help boost Claras interest in constructing the critique of patriarchal sexuality that has made her famous. Great Teacher is a former students rather sad memoir of a brilliant Oxford don who runs his career into the ground through drink, sex, and overwork, while the title story traces the tentative path taken through New England and New York (Sort of like Manchester but with a river) taken by two British Fulbright Scholars in the early 1960s. Quirky and lighthearted, its the best piece here. Many of the tales are elegies, precious and somewhat heavy-handed, like From the Old World, which portrays two pairs of siblingsthe bent Uncle Raymond, the straight Uncle Frank, the cruel Aunt Edith, and the kind Aunt Madgein the language of a fable (Aunt Edith . . . lived forever after, for as long as her cruel heart could desire, and even longer). Grossmans pedantic tone can even be pleasant and light at times, as in De Maupassants Lunch, a delightful reconstruction of a lunch that Swinburne had with de Maupassant and a monkey in the 19th century. Like the English sky, Grossmans work is mostly gray, but its sudden bursts of sunlight feel all the brighter for the surrounding gloom. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.