Monday, October 16, 2006

Last Notes and Other Stories by Tamas Dobozy

I know I said that I'm not usually drawn to short stories, but . . . .

Last Notes is, foremost, a collection of character studies. The character holds more sway than setting or plot. And no character exists as comedy relief. Each occupies his(/her) own space and insists on being taken seriously, even while tottering on the edge of madness.

Subjects which would easily lead other authors to humorous writing are instead treated with all formality, credibility, and compassion, even in "Phillip's Killer Hat," the story of two brothers, one with an unidentified mental illness and the other who acts as his caretaker and his foil, and in "The Man Who Came out of the Corner of My Eye," the story of a man who alienates himself from his friends and his wife and then begins to see and hear a man who only appears in his peripheral vision, and who claims to want to make a business of helping people detach from their friends and family.

I found myself thinking fondly of literary critics (only because I don't have to tease out these ideas unless I actually want to) and what they would have to say about the resistance of the Hunagrian immigrant characters to accept Canada as 'home'. What would be made of the woman in "Tales of Hungarian Resistance" who had no stories of her own to tell, but only commentary based on her husband's stories? or of the two main characters who box out their marital issues in "Into the Ring"? And then there's "Radio Blik," a story with postmodern tendencies, and so many other critical crevices that I would have to turn to my old literary criticism book to even get started.

Dobozy's collection was a fast and furious switch from Carol Shields's stories. I found it harder to read cover to cover because the humor was darker, less playful, but no less impressive for its more serious nature.

Like a rich seven course meal, these stories are not to be ingested in giant gulps, but in small bites. Each story needs to be given time to settle before moving onto the next course; to try to inhale these experiences like a lunch in less than half an hour would be a mistake. This is a collection to savor.

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