RHYMES WITH USELESS Paperback – Oct 31 2000
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Reading the title story of Terence Young's collection, Rhymes with Useless, one could get the wrong idea. As whimsical as that story might be--a man getting his hair cut by a young Joni Mitchell--the tone of the remainder of these stories is decidedly less upbeat. Most of the book's 13 tales involve families that are askew in some way. The children are usually on shaky footing, bewildered by their circumstances and finding no security in their own families. The adults live lives of loneliness or regret. Young's stories are subtle and nuanced, revealing character in tiny gestures. In "Sometimes Night Never Ends," a family of excommunicated Jehovah's Witnesses feels compelled to escape their home on the pagan holiday of Halloween. Six-year-old Evelina, in "Yellow with Black Horns," watches her parents' relationship deteriorate as she and her mom make plans for her brother's birthday party. In "Maintenance," Thomas reluctantly prepares to celebrate Christmas for the first time since his wife's death.
The most heartbreaking piece in the collection is "The New World." Born-again Avril tricks her mother, Rachel, into attending Bible study. As they argue on the way home, they come across a badly injured cat that Rachel takes home to nurse back to health. Young's quiet story reveals Rachel's lonely existence since her husband's death and the damage that her inability to deal with it has caused both her daughter and herself. Even a reader numbed by the manipulations of daytime television will be moved by their reconciliation. --Moe Berg
From Publishers Weekly
A tender heart beats beneath the crusty exterior of this promising debut short story collection, featuring hardscrabble characters, energetic prose and the rugged territory of Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Young's characters may drive big trucks and grind up the bones of cremated bodies for a living, but these 13 stories focus on family in all its incarnations: a squalling young couple, a widowed grandmother, a pair of children bewildered by the world. In sharp, colloquial prose, Young traces the cracks just beneath the surface of familial life in his haunting, sometimes heartbreaking tales. In "Fast," a young couple meets with an investment adviser, just as the husband contemplates a dalliance with a young temp at his office: "In the dining room, Sarah was planning their future and above her head he was thinking of ways to blow it to pieces." In "Yellow with Black Horns," a young girl helps to make a pi¤ata for her brother's birthday party, while her parents' escalating fights threaten to smash the world she knows. These are fine, sensitive stories, chronicling loss and disaffection without resorting to bland generalities. As a retired professor, mourning his wife's death, realizes at the end of "Maintenance": "the real cataclysm was not that the world would end all at once but that it was ending one person at a time." If it garners a few prominent reviews and word-of-mouth publicity, this collection should attract dedicated readers, one at a time.
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