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June 14-20, 2006

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'All Things, All at Once: New and Selected Stories'

All Things, All at Once: New and Selected Stories
REVIEW (Lee K. Abbott; W.W. Norton; 365 pp., $26.95 cloth)
—John Freeman

In the last two decades, as short stories have disappeared almost entirely from glossy magazines, it's become hard to find writers who will take risks with them the way writers like Harold Brodkey once did. Happily, Lee K. Abbott is willing to claim that mantle of gassy experimentation. In six previous collections, the New Mexico-based writer has stuffed as many semicolons as he could fit into a sentence, strapped them to no-luck narrators and explored what happens when you add a little whiskey. Abbott has now gathered together the best of those previous efforts with some new stories, titling the collection All Things, All at Once. If tidy fiction is your thing, you might want to pass this one by, because Abbott has a yen for drunks and divorces, for men with logorrhea and a barely concealed sentimental streak. About the only thing that will get the attention of Abbott's characters is a gun, because many of them are moping their way into middle age, with a slapstick understanding of their failings but a lazy inability to do anything about them. Abbott's one mistake is that he seems to think this is charming. It's not, but it's indelibly human—and that's what makes these stories worth reading.


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