Entertainment & the Arts: Sunday, June 30, 2002

“American Falls” by Barry Gifford

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

The author of 40 published books — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary biographies and miscellaneous mischief — Barry Gifford is a lesson in perseverance.

He is 55 years old. His only well-known novel is “Wild at Heart,” which owes its fame to the 1990 David Lynch movie starring Nicolas Cage. Still, 22 of Gifford’s books remain in print, according to Amazon.com.

He’s currently with a small publisher that bills “American Falls” as his first “major collection” of short fiction. I’m not convinced it’s major. There are 21 stories, most of which would be better called vignettes, and a melodramatic crime novella with the requisite classic vehicles and oddball characters.

The title piece is a simple but intriguing sketch about a Japanese-American motel owner in the 1960s. When a black man who murdered his wife checks into the motel, the owner protects him from police. Gifford, as per his usual M.O., suggests but doesn’t explain the motel owner’s motive.

Other highlights of this wildly uneven collection include “The Big Love of Cherry Lane,” wherein the 21-year-old Cherry seduces a 13-year-old boy she babysits; “New Mysteries of Paris,” literary esoterica speculating on the psyche of Andre Breton’s heroine Nadja, and “A Fair Price,” a farcical look at an actor who has his car stolen and then meets the star-struck family of the thieves.

Gifford observes that actors are “perhaps the least well-equipped human beings on the planet to lead successful personal lives.” This is saying a lot in Gifford’s world, where most lives are an amazing mess.

However, grace and epiphany seem to be always floating at the edge of these lives and this, for me, is what makes him an artist to keep up on, even when he’s just goofing around, as he is here for the most part.


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