THE ANTIOCH REVIEW
Their Magician and Other Stories
By Gloria Kurian Broder
267 pp. $20.00
The first lines of these delightful stories announce their Harlequinesque, folktale nature: “Alexei Sazevitch leapt out of the barber’s chair and looked into the mirror after his haircut, and when he saw that he was exceptionally handsome for his age, he decided to retire.” “On a Wednesday evening Penelope Eakins, one of my roommates, told us she’d invited a murderer to dinner for Thursday.” Broder’s language is her great, inviting strength, rattlingly unexpected – creating a brisk distance from her characters that is not unsympathetic, and a comically dissonant tone that manages to both surprise and comfort the reader (a difficult feat). Her promises bear the sudden, wild improbability of fables, yet reliably disclose something entirely realistic about ourselves. Broder suggests sly comeuppances for her humanly foolish players. A philandering husband’s wife dies, and it falls to his grimly seasoned, grown children to puncture his self-protecting fantasy that she has run off with a lover. An orthodontist is undone by a personally insulting graffiti. A doctor who adores his home city, Detroit, watches helplessly as it disintegrates over years. A candy baron presents a shocking “replacement” for a son who has died, to his bereaved wife. Broder’s earnest characters jangle with contradictions, but some central plumbline allows them to sense it, and to struggle for equilibrium. Insights sparkle from the prose; jazzy observations abound. An anxious daughter “smiled with all her teeth.” The bereaved wife of the candy baron, despite the loss of zest for her marriage, notes her aging husband’s thinning hair and extra weight: “But to be honest…she was fond of these changes: they stood for a passage of time that joined them.” Take these tales, in fact, like good candy: one by one, at leisurely intervals.