Pure Hollywood: And Other Stories

Christine Schutt traffics in literary realism, but her stories are filled with ghosts. Death--past, imminent, right before our eyes--looms over most of the 11 stories in Pure Hollywood. In "A Happy Rural Seat of Various View: Lucinda's Garden," a newly married young woman accidentally kills an animal while driving a gardener's minicar; later, she disappears. In "Species of Special Concern," a man is certain that he understands a renowned lepidopterist and identifier of species better than the dying woman's husband does. In the title novella, a failed young actress, recently widowed by a decades-older comedian, loses her home to the grown children from his first marriage. Moreover, there's no scarcity of flawed parenting on parade in Pure Hollywood.

Schutt (whose novels include the seductive marital atomization Prosperous Friends and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist All Souls) leavens her dispiriting subject matter with the spryest of prose, arranging words in effortlessly euphonious combinations: "Leaf-fall, stomped to leaf-meal, dusts her shoes." A cranky woman makes "tough, irritated pickax sounds with words like crap, drink, think." The mother of a baby hears "the tuneless xylophone of his bottle banged against the crib slats." Schutt's extraordinary command of language can go only so far to vitalize her wispier pieces--one is two pages long--but hardly a sentence scuds by that's not like a bloom from one of Pure Hollywood's many gardens. Of course, flowers only affirm this collection's funereal air. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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