(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

The unnamed woman talking to herself so readers can eavesdrop on her benign but pathological sense of otherness in Julie Hecht’s nine stories is articulate—a woman who keeps up with current trends in herbal remedies, macrobiotic vegetarian theories of health, and ecological strategies for healing the earth. Add to her personality a sense of profound loss. She refers to her “facial disintegration” in the first story, “Perfect Vision,” and versions of the deterioration lament echo throughout the rest of the stories: unfinished projects, lack of interest in friends, even a story titled “The Thrill Is Gone.” Her attempts to avoid driving or riding public transportation into New York lead to accounts of behavior-modification strategies to overcome her fears of the South Fork bus (“Do the Windows Open?”) and stories that include conversations with drivers she hires to navigate for her (“A Lovely Day” and “I Couldn’t See a Thing”). Her quirky and isolating behavior is tinged with concern about finding a suitable project to occupy her and fulfill her photographer’s soul. Together these tendencies and preoccupations create a nearly complete picture of the main, and some might say only, character in these stories.

Her voice dominates these monologic stories. Even though she talks about friends, drivers, store clerks, and the “famous reproductive surgeon” Dr. Arnold Loquesto and his family, as well as Nantucket summer types, it is her perceptions that organize narrative events. She seems buffeted by all the theories and people she encounters even as she regales readers with her accounts. Readers cannot dismiss her odd filtering of contemporary life. She voices the fears, predispositions, conjectures, and laments that threaten to overcome anyone living near an urban area in modern America. Beset by overcrowding, pollution, commuting, and transitory encounters that replace relationships built over time, all Americans have felt the wave of dislocation that Hecht’s woman suffers. It is impossible to write about the stories in terse sentences because they are multilayered, multifaceted in time and consciousness.

The nine stones outline discrete dilemmas the narrator faces. The premier story, “Perfect Vision,” comes in the form of a rambling letter to a friend with whom she has not spoken in more than a year. It purports to be a warning about an optometrist the friend recommended. Yet a geometric progression expands the narrator’s accusation that Mr. Kropstadt is a Nazi sympathizer into a short treatise on the onus attached to Steiff toys in the late 1950’s and the possible political implications of her recent purchase of a Braun coffee machine. Mr. Kropstadt’s use of a German company to copy her eyeglass frames confirms her suspicions. The entanglements of “Perfect Vision” belie its title and call attention to Hecht’s deft handling of the maze of the narrator’s consciousness. Readers enter the narrator’s world, sharing her persistent, self-reflexive tendency to connect disparate subjects and persons. The complexity of her interactions and cross-references among persons, places, and projects escalates throughout the nine stories as she searches for a measure of community and safety. Her world of baffling details and relationships is tinged with a fixation with anti-Semitism that darkens all of her possibilities. The first story initiates Hecht’s reiterative style, alerting readers that the announced subjects serve only as an entrée to the collection’s real subject, the narrator’s attempt to integrate her life.

Like all stories, “Perfect Vision” circles round on itself, gathering an unlikely retinue of persons and ideas. Between her initial mention of Christmas and the final “Happy New Year too” for Elizabeth’s whole family, the narrator includes side stories on her Roxbury, Connecticut, real estate agent; her periodontist with a view of Central Park from his office; and Mr. Frey, “the Belgian” who works for Kropstadt. Her mini-tales within stories are interspersed with allusions to contemporary celebrities and news personalities. David Letterman’s advice on not viewing the Christmas lights in Rockefeller Center, her supposition about Yasir Arafat’s nose jobs, and Imelda Marcos’s real estate holdings seem essential to her message.

In “Do the Windows Open?” readers relive the narrator’s final ride on public transportation. She enumerates her fears and her fellow commuters and also introduces Dr. Arnold Loquesto, a surgeon she is attempting to photograph with his dog. His personality and practice become a repeating motif. The doctor and his dog, wife, and sons reappear in “A Lovely Day,” when the narrator accompanies him home. In that story, her description of his lack of imagination and judgment about relieving the heat in his car and home raises questions about the competence and perception of Dr. Loquesto and all the...

(The entire section is 2009 words.)