The stories in each of Charles Baxter’s three collections are internally linked by theme, image, and motif. The title story in each collection suggests thematic ties to other stories in the collection. As a musician composes a symphony, building variations around an initial theme, Baxter works and reworks connecting ideas in multiple ways. While some stories seem more closely linked than others, taken as a whole, each collection says something different about the human experience.
For example, in Harmony of the World, a number of stories concern music, musicians, or artists. Thematically, Baxter plays with notions of harmony and discord and the way these notions play out in human relationships. Likewise, in A Relative Stranger, Baxter explores both the relatedness of strangers and the strangeness of relatives. In these stories he seems to tell the reader that no matter how different or far apart people are, they are nonetheless connected. Conversely, he also demonstrates in these stories that no matter how closely related people may be, they still have to live their lives alone in their skins. Finally, in Believers, an especially fine collection, Baxter meditates on the relationship between belief and truth. He demonstrates in these stories both how belief can change the perception of truth and how truth can impact belief.
Baxter accomplishes these sophisticated linkages through the invention of characters who are...
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