In the Sparrow Hills

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Capouya claims that his stories are “something of a different order” in fiction, and that his characters are fictitious. He talks about real incidents, however, and uses the names of real acquaintances both alive and dead. Avram Yarmolinsky, a Russian immigrant, folklorist, and Chekhov scholar whom Capouya knew, figures largely in the title story. M.L. Rosenthal, the poet and critic, also appears as Mack, and helps the author in a literary hunt.

In his eloquent explorations, Capouya tries to show how random incidents reveal vital connections between people. His stories develop from memories and private insights more than they rely on movement fueled by events and actions. Their tone is confessional and moral, and the unnamed narrator is skillfully self-deprecating and wry in his assessment of his own past actions. Capouya’s themes of betrayal, impulsive violence, and life’s moral uncertainties unfold in a surprising verbal mix of saltwater jargon and high literary diction.

“In the Sparrow Hills” begins with a friendly conflict over the source of a Chekhov sketch, and moves by association to an incident of near-insubordination at sea over a misread compass. “The Other Rogozhin” examines private identity in remembrances of brief encounters with strangers in Soviet Russia and on the Murmansk Run during World War II. The climactic concluding story moves between the present-day hospital bed of the narrator’s wife and a ship abandoned off Leyte in the Philippines years before. Although quiet in tone, Capouya’s stories reflect fiercely held convictions about life’s mysteries, intricacies, and dangers.