March 5, 2004

Searching for Intruders
Stephen Raleigh Byler

Shallow -- I bought this book for several reasons. First, Robert Charles and I were spending a leisurely weekend in Washington, D.C., when we stumbled upon a great bookshop: tidy shelves, a c.d. of Vivaldi playing softly, a polite owner who didn't talk too much and a friendly cat snoozing by the cash register who only too happily welcomed a gentle petting. Exactly the kind of shop I want to keep in business. Second, I was intrigued with the book's structure, a novel-in-stories. Third, the book has some of the best back-cover blurbs that I have ever read. (Kirkus Reviewers: "A strong debut from a writer who can whittle experiences to the quick." Jim Harrison: "... an alarmingly fresh entry into fictive reality." And from Harold Bloom: "... 'Searching for Intruders' returns us to the Hemingway of 'The Nick Adams Stories.'") Three superficial reasons, yes, but how could I pass it up? Too bad I didn't. For me, the story here is whittled far too much -- and I love minimalism. But I love good minimalism, tight stories that resonate. Regrettably, this book reads more like an unfinished novel than a novel-in-stories. And the confused-young-man plot certainly lost its freshness years ago. I know no one could stand a comparison (even, and maybe especially, a favorable comparison) to Hemingway; but this story fails to reach for anything higher or deeper.


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