Sleeping Mask

In one of the stories in Sleeping Mask, Peter LaSalle (The City at Three P.M.) writes of "the stylistic daring, the sheer visionary magic of words" in Virginia Woolf's work. Stylistically daring is a good way to describe LaSalle's work. Readers know what to expect from some short story writers, but if they think the title piece--a hypnotic tale in which a honey-voiced seducer coos unsettling words to a woman as he helps her put on her velvet-and-satin mask--is typical of the entire volume, they soon discover that LaSalle is far less predictable. The pieces collected here range from a faux-scholarly paper about Edgar Allan Poe to the account of an airplane passenger who returns from the lavatory to discover that everyone else on board, including the pilot, has disappeared.

Sleeping Mask's experimental pieces--including "Found Fragment from the Report on the Cadaver Dogs of Northern Maine, 1962," a 15-page sentence about a failed novelist's attempt to rid the world of literary journals--are less successful than the more straightforward narratives. But the latter contain jewels: "Lunch Across the Bridge" features a young couple, still grieving their son's death, who walk across the Laredo bridge in Texas to a Mexican restaurant, where a drug lord recently out of prison has appeared; in "A Late Afternoon Swim," a middle-aged man's reminiscences about a childhood visit to a Rhode Island beach becomes a meditation on the vagaries of memory. An entertaining, assured sampling from an endlessly inventive writer. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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