Strange Business Paperback – Sep 8 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
The regional voices in these 11 interrelated, canny stories are protean and riveting as they record the "strange business" of death and the fleetingness of life in the fictional town of Cedar, Okla. Opening with Native American recollections of bloody strife among whites and several Choctaw factions in 1892, debut author Askew titles each subsequent tale with a year from 1961 to 1986. The white settlers' descendants, young and old, are heard from. Little Cephus of "1964" covets a playmate's pet raccoon and dreams it has died. Self-conscious teenager Lyla Mae cringes on her awkward first date with a boy she met at Bible camp ("1967"); in "1968," she crawls from her window with her worldlier California cousin Nikki to drive with the town youths till dawn. In "1981," an old man speaks tenderly from beyond the grave about his wife's farewell at his funeral. Emerging gradually over three stories is the figure of D. H. DeWitt, first seen in "1968" as he roars through the streets in his pickup truck, egging Lyla Mae and Nikki to steal watermelons and landing in jail. A hung-over D. H. attends the funeral of a friend killed in Vietnam ("1970"), while "1983" sees a fatuous, lonely D.H., now a snake wrangler, toting his unpredictable pet into a bar to shock the patrons--with catastrophic results. In unfolding this fertile character especially, Askew reveals tantalizing novelistic potential.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Ten stories, all set in the small town of Cedar, Oklahoma, each titled by the year it is respectively are set in, make up Askew's debut volume. Local lore and town-consciousness bind some in the manner of ritual: the creepy misfit all the kids are afraid of; the local good-old-boy killed in Vietnam; the summer visit by a worldly cousin from California. Others are less usual: a woman shoots her long-nagging husband; an old man newly dead watches his own funeral; a pet raccoon turns feral at the moment a boy most identifies with the animal. But, together, the stories allow only a muzzy impression of Askew's tale-telling: the style-changes hinder clear view. One story is superb, though, and does give evidence of the talent the others dilute. In ``1967,'' a young Cedar girl, Lyla Mae, goes out on a date--her first--with a boy from another town. Too young to drive himself, the boy picks her up in a truck captained by his obese uncle and the uncle's girlfriend. All four drive miles, to a baseball game in the boy's hometown, a game that Lyla Mae sits through as though through purgatory: strangenesses pile onto each other with every minute, along with the terrible knowledge that you can like someone but not like his or her life. The story has physical immediacy and a sense of wonderful/terrible apprehension, and is by the far the best thing here. A middling first collection, then, with one marvelous exception. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Sadly, the last three stories are less successful. The digressions of "1981" render a sweet idea (a man watches his own funeral) nearly impossible to read. The Aspergerian main character of "1983," a rattler hunter with an inability to understand that his one joke is not at all funny, was disturbing and good, but too long. And the final story, "1986," is a hard one. A long conversation between a confused man in a junk store and a sad woman with a difficult daughter closes the book on a difficult note.
So five stories are brilliant, and the others left me cold. Still, I have to rate the book highly, because the stories that work... they work so beautifully.