Scott Sommer Barry Targan - Essay

Barry Targan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The title story of Scott Sommer's Lifetime] is far richer in ironies and complexities and characters than a brief description can convey. And it is richer in this sense than the other admirable stories in the collection because thematically it ranges more widely, reaches up into the possibility and the condition of love and the chance for a kind of personal salvation even as it measures the more terrifyingly bleak likelihoods.

In Sommer's other stories we are not always sure enough about why his characters have succumbed so completely or so quickly to their self-destructive (and self-pitying) condition. Surely there are people "like this," yet they are not simply or widely representative of life's options. Surely life does not fail so completely. But I do not think that the narrowed focus of the stories should be mistaken for Sommer's deeper idea. He is not saying that we are all like this—freakish malcontents, drug pushers, whores, 10-year-old burnt-out cases, seething sufferers. Rather I think he intends for us to realize that he is looking at an infection (the sick disease of modern life) and the prognosis is not good. If Sommer's fiction is, as I believe, socially diagnostic, then his method and style are fitting, where often we see and hear a dispassionate, tough reporting, a seeing but not necessarily a judging, a level presentation of characters who are themselves often not level or calm, who are often outrageous or glibly sardonic or teeth-grindingly angry or simply stupid. Colorfully vapid. Sommer's approach is to present the texture more than the shape of the consequences of three-quarters of a century of human debasement.

Barry Targan, "In the Province of the Story," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1981, The Washington Post), August 30, 1981, p. 10.∗