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Robert Reid. Stories of the Sky-God: Spider's Web of Fiction and Drama.

Robert Reid. Stories of the Sky-God: Spider's Web of Fiction and Drama. Los Angeles. Red Hen. 2007. 198 pages. $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59709-003-2

In many respects, Robert Reid's protagonists resemble those amiable but utterly doomed postwar heroes familiar from the writings of Salinger, Heller, and Mailer. As everyone around them intuitively grasps, Reid's leading men are bad news, showering unhappiness on themselves and everyone with whom they become involved. The seventeen stories and four one-act plays in this collection relate a depressing litany of human failure, yet, in its own way, the search for unconditional love is the central action of each of Reid's narratives. Castaway on distant islands of confusion and fear--often quite literally abandoned on such islands as Taiwan or Guam--his heroes attempt to secure an ideal love of unimaginable purity and devotion. Unfortunately, in the course of testing their lovers for these ethereal qualities, Reid's protagonists also risk losing their affection.

Part of the test, so to speak, is the enormous self-doubt that these protagonists project. As a writer of fiction, Reid is at his best in his relentless probing of the nature of self-doubt and in dramatizing its inevitable costs and consequences, for what Reid's characters seek in the world is something akin to the ideal quality of flawless jade. As Reid puts it in describing a jade-colored silk fan, it is "something so special to a Chinese lover that you seldom saw anyone wearing it." Because of the impossibility of ever realizing their goals, Reid's characters are subject to fits of hopelessness, self-doubt, and depression.

The result is a fictional world populated by characters such as the protagonist of "China Doll," characters filled with self-pity because they do not fully believe in the ideal of spiritual union but find their own drunken debauches ugly and repugnant. In "The Bedraggled Dead," Reid examines the cry for help of one of the "living" who feels himself "left above," as Reid brilliantly puts it--abandoned by the dead, the aborted, the lost parents and lovers, as well as by the cruel and indifferent among the living. To escape the dead, the living turn to sex, drugs, and art. Cynically, Reid's unnamed protagonist in this story announces: "There is only self-indulgence. Elevated, it is called pity. That doesn't mean it isn't work." To which the spirit of death with which he converses replies, "There's something better than work."

Reid's stories are a powerful indictment of a postmodern world degraded by cynicism and selfishness and deeply in need of the transformative "trickster" force of which he so often writes. The sense of defeat--but also of never-ending aspiration--is Robert Reid's central theme in Stories of the Sky-God. This is an important collection, masterfully probing a contemporary world of culturally migratory and rootless souls. With startling realism, Robert Reid conveys the plight of the frustrated idealist and the distressing consequences of his endless quest.

Jeffrey Folks

Knoxville, Tennessee
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Author:Folks, Jeffrey
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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