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Thief of Lives.

The "imagination of disaster" in Kit Reed's collection of stories, Thief of Lives, is vivid. These stories creep up on you, unnerve, make you anxious. Over and over again in seemingly innocuous middle-class lives, Reed images a monster - a metaphorical Jonah - that devours desire, good looks, marriages, children, lives. In the title story, the narrator visiting friends "from the great bonding period of early marriage" realizes that their marriage is collapsing: "Let me tell you something about the imagination of disaster," she warns. "One mishap, one slip where trouble catches you not looking, and you will have it, whether or not you want it; like it or not, you will run ahead of the imagination of disaster for the rest of your life." Mortal dangers are hauntingly described as characters are drawn into physically and emotionally enclosed spaces: mismatches, misapprehensions, mistakes, misunderstandings, miscommunications, misidentified feelings. In one of the best stories of the book, "In the Squalus," Larkin, a navy man, "underwater for too long," is alive facing the rushing ocean, but forced to close a door against twenty-six men who die at sea: a memory sealed in the space of his mind. He is swallowed by their deaths. Like the unsuspecting young man, Arnold, who enlivens the barren lives of the spinsters, Maude and Lizzie, in "Winter" - "they et him" when he tried to leave - swallowed. Or Bartlett in "The Jonahs" lusting after his brother-in-law's wife, enjoying "infidelity without the consequences." Swallowed by desire.

But there is balance in this vision. Kit Reed in this unified group of stories neatly provides the counterlife to Jonah, also raising the image of Lazarus to inspirit the dead and maimed feelings and memories of her characters. The narrator of "Thief of Lives," returning to the ghostly memory of her father sinking in a navy ship, proclaims "I am Lazarus." These characters carry talismans that forearm against disaster: "Save everything you have to say," "Take care of yourselves," "prepare for it," "protect." As the aging mother of "Queen of the Beach" advises her vulnerable daughter, "It's not what happens to you that makes the difference. It's the way you handle it."

And yet we are left uneasy with the rescue, the saving secrets. These stories disturb for they suggest so many things that we cannot put a name to: among others, a mind afraid of its own death. And yet Reed's language belying the unnaming is rich and sure in its life (she has written eleven novels, most recently Catholic Girls). Her characters are deftly realized as she sends them "clattering into the silence."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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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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