Short subjects

Monday Book Review

July 17, 1995|By John Goodspeed

LATE SUMMER BREAK. By Ann B. Knox. Papier-Mache Press. 162 pages. Cloth $14. Paperback $9.

ANN KNOX lives in Hancock, Maryland, teaches fiction writing at the Writer's Center in Washington, D.C., and has had her short stories published in numerous literary journals, including: Over-the-Wall, The MacGuffin, Zuzu'z Petals and Phoebe -- to name only the four with the most imaginative titles.

"Late Summer Break" contains 14 Knox stories, including one called "Magnus Isn't Here" that won the New Letters Literary Award. Magnus is a crazy mongrel dog who lives on a New Mexico ranch with a man he loves and the man's wife (the story's narrator). The wife resents the beast as the substitute for the children she cannot bear. It's a tough social issue for her.

This book's publisher -- with another imaginative title, Papier-Mache -- writes "it is our goal to identify and successfully present important social issues through enduring works of beauty, grace and strength." In Ann Knox's stories, the causes and cures of unhappy marriages (or some variation on the shortcomings of men) are often the issue. In "Roxy," a women copes with a masher in a movie theater; in "Survivors," a father signs up his 8-year-old son for Little League without consulting his wife; in "Another Mountain," a wife says of her deer-hunting husband: "Jesse's good company when we're alone, but when he's with his buddies, it's as if I'm not there." And so on like that.

Ms. Knox's prose is graceful and her social issues are usually easy to grasp, but the last sentence in the title story, "Late Summer Break," is a little confusing. The setting is Maryland. A farm wife has to decide whether or not she'll spend the rest of her life with her inferior husband. She does so after they make love on a waterbed in an Eastern Shore motel. She muses:

"Clear as the silence following a blackbird's song, she knew she would always live among hills with tools she could name."

Question: what does Ms. Knox imply about "the silence following a blackbird song. . . ."? The blackbirds around my home on the Eastern Shore are predominantly crows, grackles and starlings. Their "songs" are awful screeches, and the "silence following," although it might be described as "clear," may be more appropriately thought of as "pleasant" in the sense that the silence after a loud hit on the head with a 2-by-4 is pleasant because it feels good. Is that what Ms. Knox means?

John Goodspeed writes from the Eastern Shore.

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