These 8 entertaining stories (defining diverse) spin a fast read: edgy in some tales, nostalgic in others, lustrous always. Lammy Provocateur Fritscher is the best kind of award-winning author: one who disappears behind his characters, dialog, and textured plots. His stylish fiction carries the 20th- century reader through the door of Y2K. Here is human love, new and ageless, in all its tender genders, comic banana slips, identity ironies, and family silences. The subtext: people crave, not sex, but intimacy and connection. Stories include: the breathless satire and gay wedding story, "Mrs. Dalloway Went That-A-Way"; the reflexive college-faculty comedy, "The Unseen Hand in the Lavender Light"; the Alaskan cruise-ship adventure, "The Story Knife"; the Hitchcockian suspense-thriller, "Missing Persons"; the hospital-issue drama, "Silent Mothers, Silent Sons"; and the tale of two couples all surrogately wrong for each other in "Sweet Embraceable You Cover" (told twice here: as brilliant little story and as snappy one-act play first staged in San Francisco). This fresh collection of diverse entertainments also includes an easy-to-read indie screenplay, "Duchess: Berlin 1927." Appealing. Accessible. Amazing.
Author Bio: JACK FRITSCHER, like ANNE RICE, famously crosses literary genres and emerges as a cult best seller with work published in 30 magazines, a dozen anthologies, plus more than 100,000 copies sold of his books and 250,000 copies sold of his videos. CAMILLE PAGLIA uses his writing in her Vamps and Tramps, and The New Republic compared his novel Some Dance to Remember (epic gay history: 1970-82) to GORE VIDAL and JAMES BALDWIN.
250 pages, $14.95
M.J. Arcangelini, We the People, November 2000
Virginia Sink, The Tribune, March 1, 2001
We The People, November 2000
by M. J. Arcangelini
Local author Jack Fritscher's latest book is a delightful collection of 8 short pieces of fiction. Since Mr. Fritscher appears to attempt to keep his work carefully segregated between the "erotic" and the "literary," let me say that this volume is in his literary, rather than in his erotic, vein. That said, I must assure you that Eros is not exactly banished from these pages. Rather he works subtly, providing the motivation for much of what occurs herein.
While these "coffee-house" tales might be on the lighter--rather than the deadly serious--side, that does not necessarily mean they don't deal with serious issues.
Of the two opening works, the title story, "Sweet Embraceable You," and the one-act play, "Kweenasheba," take essentially the same four characters (two men and two women) and run them through corresponding situations with different outcomes. Plays (and screenplays) never read for me as smoothly as stories. No matter how well they might be written, they always seem a bit flat on the page. Even Shakespear, Ibsen & O'Neill need the stage or screen to be appreciated fully.
Thus I confess to preferring the more fleshed-out writing of "Sweet Embraceable You" to the stage directions of "Kweenasheba."
I also have unconfirmed suspicion that "Sweet Embraceable You" is essentially a more mature rewrite of a youthful "Kweenasheba."
"Rainbow County" is reprinted here from an earlier collection, to which it lent its title. That volume had a stronger, more explicit erotic focus. While this story of a small-town, mid-western closet case (Robert) drawn to San Francisco is driven by erotic desire, it is much more in the nature of character study than on-handed fiction.
Both Robert and Lloyd, the Castro St. barber in whose shop Robert takes refuge, are well drawn. Their always believable interactions are alternately comic and chilling.
The next three stories, "The Unseen Hand in the Lavender Light" (structured as a film synopsis). "Silent Mother, Silent Sons," and "The Story Knife" find Mr. Fritscher slipping into the lives of 3 disparate characters with varying degrees of success.
The repressed college professor in "Unseen Hand..." who spend his life hiding within films, is not much more than the amusing parody of academia he is intended to be. The tale as such is entertaining, but it is difficult to care much for him.
In "Silent Mothers..." a grandmother is being shunted off to a nursing home by one daughter, while another attempts to rescue. The story jumps around in time, touching on many of the events in this woman's life: youthful romance, dead sons, gay son and grandson, her daughter morphing into her mother, elder abuse and even Vietnam. We follow her speculations on why her gay son and grandson were never able to talk to her about being gay--even though she knew and accepted that they were. Here there may have simply been too many different potential plot lines happening in too short a space for my taste.
"Story Knife's priest on vacation is the better of the three. The character is more fully realized and the action well focused. The good Father seems not quite so worried about his celibacy vows as he is by the possibility of contracting AIDS, while he considers the choice between suicide in the cold Alaskan waters and a roll in the hay with a hot Italian cabin boy.
Then we have "Mrs. Dalloway Went That-A-Way!," which is a combination film review of "Mrs. Dalloway" by Marlene Gorris), an essay tying together just about ever Virginia Woolf-related book, play or film ever done, and a fictional story about a gay couple and the mother of one of them.
As the exclamation point in the title implies, this one rushes off frantically in a giddy whirl of images, ideas and language. In the process a kind of intellectual slap-stick ensures that just tickled the hell out of me.
Of course, not being all that familiar with Virginia Woolf's writing, I'm sure I've missed a lot of the parody aspects here, but there was plenty enough humor for me as is. Any story capable of conflating Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee, Michael Cunningham, Vanessa Redgrave, various Bloomsbury stalwarts, our own Rialto Theatre and gay marriage into the same story and still make sense is OK with me--especially since, along the way, it manages to connect the discrimination felt by women artists working in a male-dominated world with that of gays and lesbians living in a hetero-dominated world, and west coast writers discriminated against by a New York literary establishment that sees no value to anything written west of Chicago. In this way substance is added to the dazzle of the writing.
Finally we have the only piece in the collection without obvious "gay" content: "Duchess: Berlin 1928," a screenplay which purports to be a 1932 German film written and directed by Amelia Haberman. However, it turns out that the women given credit for this lost cinema gem are actually the author's grandmother (Ms. Haberman) and aunts!
The joke is done well enough to make one wonder it is an original work or actual translation.
The story is a telling of the Anastasia legend, wherein the youngest daughter of the Russian Romanov family is presumed to have survived the family's murder and is hiding out in 1928 Europe.
I'm sure most of us have seen Ingrid Berman & Yul Brenner work their way through Hollywood's version. Mr. Fritscher's version focuses on the young woman's struggle to be herself when everyone around here wants her to be someone else.
That theme, in fact, runs through all the stories in this volume. Whether it be Kweenasheba refusing to be anyone's wife, the college professor refusing to be anyone's husband or the grandmother refusing to be anyone's fool, these characters are all either looking for themselves or struggling to stay true to themselves in the face of near-constant pressure to be otherwise.
So what we have here is a fine collection of well written stories, each of a length to be read while nursing a nice cup of coffee in a warm local establishment as the winter rain falls lazily outside the window.
The Tribune, Oklahoma City
March 1, 2001
by Virginia Sink
"Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing," the popular song says. And there are many kinds of love. The book, âœSweet Embraceable You: Coffee House Stories" by Jack Fritscher, examines love in a way not usually mentioned in this column. Fritscher's books has to do with "coupling" as he calls it. "The changing nature of two people coupling is the running theme of the stories," the author says. They are powerful stories.
There are actually six short stories in this book plus one short, four-person, one-act comedy that two couples could read in one get-together, and a short screenplay for those "who have never had the change to read an actual screenplay."
These are modern, today stories about today's people, and the way they act and think. They depict a part of society that is clamoring for attention in today's world.
The first story is about a married couple, a second marriage for both, and the way their ex-spouses still cling to them and want to be included in their lives.
The second story, "Rainbow County" is a little scary, but hints at it enough to make prickles rise on one's neck. All of this is expressed in subtle, fine writing. Fritscher is a polished writer, editing his work to the bone so that the entire mood of each story points only to the feeling he wishes to impress on the reader.
Some are stories about the hippie days of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury area.
Fritscher holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from Loyola Univeristy, Chicago, and has taught writing as associate professor, tenured at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and at Loyola University. He is the author of five short story collections, four novels, three nonfiction books, two produced plays and two screenplays. One this is sure. This fellow is a super writer.
The softback sells for $14.95 and is published by Palm Drive Publishing, PO Box 191021, San Francisco CA 94119. I don't know if it can be found at your local bookstore, but you can inquire.
Someone who read the book--and admired the quite appropriate half-eaten pear on the attractive cover--said it could just as well had been an apple.
copyright Virginia Sink