Lisa Norris Toy Guns: Stories

ISBN 13: 9781884235313

Toy Guns: Stories

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9781884235313: Toy Guns: Stories
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Review from the Kansas City Star, Sunday, October 29, 2000 by John Mark Eberhart.

The trouble with didatic fiction is that the message sometimes overshadows the art. Once in awhile, though a writer gets the balance exactly right, and the result can be as engaging as it is instructive.

Lisa Norris gets it right with Toy Guns, her debut collection of short stories and the winner of Helicon Nine Editions' 1999 Willa Cather Fiction Prize.

Norris is fearless in her exploration of a disquieting subject: The almost casually brutal propensity for violence in contemporary American life. But she does it without sacrificing striking narratives and intriguing characters.

"Interior Country," the opening tale, is a sort of "Thelma & Louise" story without the romanticizing. Two women, both victims of a world of loutish, savage men, meet up in Alaska--and contront, in themselves, the very thing they profess to fear and hate.

"I've been knocked around all my life," says Roxanne, armed with a firearm but perhaps no longer armed with her sanity. "I don't mean to be knocked around no more," she tells Cory, a younger woman whose timidity Roxanne seeks to shatter by forcing her to face some terrible realities.

"American Primitive" uses events and images far less explicit than a gun-toting woman on the loose in Alaska, but it's still a devastating story. Betsy, a young American girl, trembles in fear of "headhunters" while traveling through the Philippines with her family. But the real enemy is within, personified by her drunken, insensitive father and a mother perhaps too submissive to step in and stop her daughter's suffering.

One of the finest stories of the collection, though is "Prisoners of War," in which a disabled, retired bookstore owner meets up with a group of thuggish young men playing paintball war games in the Idaho mountains. Is this really an ROTC training session, or is there a more malign force at work here, perhaps a hate mongering militia group? Norris builds dramatic tension out of the ambiguity while simultaneously commenting on the difficulty these days in discerning good in any kind of violence, government-sanctioned or not.

"Black Ice," the 10th and final story in the book, turns a simple road mishap in wintry conditions into a metaphor for survival and kinship.

Norris, who lives in Virginia, has written not only a great first book, but also a great book, period. Once again, the Kansas City-based Helicon Nine has discovered a fine new literary voice.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Peculiar and terrible moments darken everyday places and events in this debut stick-'em-up collection of 10 short stories exploring America's eternal fascination with and fatal attraction to guns. Throughout Norris's disturbing book, winner of the 1999 Willa Cather Fiction Prize, there is an element not so much of surprise as of curiosity. What has happened? What will happen next? "Interior Country" is a raw shocker with the feel of a true-crime narrative. Cory has traveled a rocky road with the men in her life, but after she meets armed and dangerous Roxanne, a woman who judges all men as deserving the death penalty, Cory is not quite so prepared to pass sentence. Roxanne wants to go out in a blaze of glory, and it's Cory's job to bear witness. In "American Primitive," a little girl with an abusive father enjoys solitary visits to a small chapel in a military compound: "She liked going into the building alone. She always opened the door slowly, afraid she might interrupt someone who was praying, but most of the time the chapel was empty except for a feeling.... It was like being scared and happy at the same time." Norris's characters all know what it is to view the underside of things, and violence is always imminent. One cannot ignore the repeated military base settings, evocative of men at war and in control. Though criticism of brutality is implicit in Norris's tales, a strong hint of male bashing limits the general appeal of her otherwise fine writing. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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