(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

HONEY is a collection of stories about contemporary life. Stark arroyos and heat-hazed sunsets evoke the Southwest desert settings brilliantly, but the characters’ emotions are universal. These characters’ situations are, if not universal, recognizably normal as well. Marriages are never quite free of the claims and memories of previous partners, or of the presence of adolescent children from those earlier marriages. Teenage sons, stranded on the fringes of their new families, test them with bizarre acts of rebellion such as bikers’ tattoos or near-suicidal river dips, but ultimately come through to pick up new responsibilities. Babies—newborn and squalling, inexplicably delayed in birth, or just a wished-for future baby— interrupt their parents’ other plans, as babies have always done. If all this sounds like a replay of thrice-told tales, it is not; the stories in HONEY are so rich in quirky details and in imagery that every one shines new and surprising.

In “Black Dress,” “Honey,” and “The Minute I Saw You,” three interwoven stories, the Pacific coast setting and his cousins’ offhand hospitality bring teenage Kevin back to hope, while his father tries to understand the behavior of the women around him. “Kid Gentle” is a horse bought by a woman as a substitute for the baby she has miscarried, and a promise to the child she hopes to have. “James Was Here” is about a man haunted by unemployment and failed romances, who finally picks up a gun. He carries it around all day, feeling dangerous. Instead of using it, he finally throws it away—an unexpected rejection of the violent images in his mind.

Tallent is very much a literary writer in the modern mold. Her stories are told through myriad bright details, recalled memories, and small events that mean much.

To readers who expect more action—actual fights and accidents and chases taking place, and arguments where the characters yell rather than biting off angry words—it may seem that nothing happens in the stories in HONEY. Readers who appreciate a more subtle touch will find a real treasure trove of sharp insights and complex human events in these stories.