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A City of Mazes.

Cynthia Hendershot's collection of short stories, City of Mazes, balances women ominously on the edge of sanity; Jessica Treat's collection, A Robber in the House, on the edge of dream. For both authors in their first collections of short-short stories, the erotics of relationships between men and women is, in Hendershot's words, "in another land, on the other side of the mirror." The difference between them is in the darkness of the vision that disturbs their polished linguistic surfaces.

Treat's gemlike stories present men and women in conflict in small narrative spaces, but dreamlike undercurrents course through. In "Jamitzo," one of the best stories in the collection, you enter a land that "has its own logic, its own rules." You see the people "through the filmy curtain at the door in the room lined with night, eyes swimming in the dark." You, of a "different land" and culture, "are watched, and your hands in your pockets fingering the magic." You drift with disembodied, nameless lovers ("he"s and "she"s) in Mexican-fringed tales in the "Zamora" section of the collection. In "The Soldier," a woman "without desire, without need floated to the ceiling of the compartment, [and] watched the soldier love her." In the fantasy, "The Man I Want to Marry," "she" sees the man she wants to marry on the other side of the street.

We are gently released into dream in Treat's stories; Cynthia Hendershot, on the other hand, powerfully projects us into sexual nightmares in A City of Mazes. A violent, obsessive cast envelops her female lovers who are wounded, bloodied, bruised. Though part of the renaissance of women describing the erotics of relationships, Hendershot is not progressive in these stories. Men are callous in "Metal Love": "I still remember his hands before they were blades, how they gently stroked me. . . . I know if I stay, he'll turn my white body completely red." The woman in "Red Light Story" admits "yes, he wanted me but only for an hour each night"; another in "Your House" cries, "You puncture my eyes and I am stumbling after you but you are gone." The male is plotted as elusive in these stories; the woman, wounded and waiting.

But Hendershot's surrealist play with the nature of desire - its elusiveness - is interesting. There is surreal energy in her stories (more power somehow than Treat's), but there is also the same female facelessness that we find in male surrealist art. Her striking imagery in the city of mazes is violent - breaking glass, blood, knives, amputated bodies, cigarette butts, white bodies sprawled across black silk sheets - and turns the reader, like the female protagonist of many stories, stony. Often a woman's eyes are described like "stones" or "glass" and she has turned numb. She is a statue, a doll, a Medusa turned in upon herself.

Both Cynthia Hendershot and Jessica Treat inherit their newly popularized short-short story form from the tales and parables of Kafka, Poe, and Grimm; it is a form that allows these young authors to enter the land of desire "on the other side of the mirror" glancingly, with riddles of relationships perched on deceptively smooth surfaces.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Laurence, Patricia
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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