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Under the Light.

Unfortunately overlooked, Michel's first collection of fifteen stories is impressive not only for the quality of his stories but for the range of styles he uses. From lyrical ("Willows") to toneless ("The Beast, Watered"), the stories are interested in the different ways that language can be used to illuminate a life. In this case the life is that of the maddening and often cruel Harry Drake. The stories explore Harry's development from a kid unable to put together the clues that add up to his mother's infidelity ("Reno, Reno, Reno, Reno"), to a boy hurling vicious pitches at a mother who refuses to give in to his assault ("Under the Light" - the best story in the collection), to a youth making his first crude attempts at seduction in a treehouse ("The Naming"), to being ambiguously "seduced" by an older woman ("Smoke"), to his own replication of his mother's infidelity and his betrayal of his own spouse ("The Beast, Watered" and "I Am Not So Old").

We are given a life in mixed-up fragments. Harry Drake presented in terms of a series of crises, in terms of the events which have lacerated his selfconception. The book seems almost a novel, but the difference is that it is discontinuous - like life it is difficult to group all the selves of the stories together into a developing, unified self. Michel's fictions are unblinking in their relentless examination of moments of a life, removing all the alibis which hide a life from itself, leaving Harry Drake stripped to nerve and bone. The effect is challenging and occasionally uncomfortable, bringing the reader into collision, not only with the internalized wounds which have gone into the creation of Harry's being, but with the reader's own wounded self as well. The steady, merciless stare that reveals Harry's crudeness becomes reflected back, revealing to those readers who dare meet its gaze the agony built into their own life. The book drives this home in its final story, with Harry helping his own son on his paper route, watching the replication of his own anguish develop within his boy. A fine collection, presenting a promising new talent.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Evenson, Brian
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:358
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