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Summary: Naïve Honesty Rather than Studied Pretense
Review: John Doble may give readers the wrong impression in titling his book "Lefty" and Other Stories because this volume is not a collection of sports stories. In fact "Lefty," a story about a second rate baseball scout who discovers an exceptionally talented high school pitcher, is the least typical of the seven stories. The narrator does everything right to develop his protégé for a major league career only to have the young man get his arm broken in a stupid barroom brawl.
The other six stories are much less externally focused. The unifying theme is an intelligent but naïve observer who grows through his interactions with a more sophisticated other. Two stories are particularly disturbing. In "The Mind Reader," the narrator watches his college friend play some particularly vicious psychological games on a random coed to prove his views on human nature. "Two Letters from the Doctor" has the friend in Vietnam first lie about the war and then expose its deep psychological horrors to the sheltered narrator who doesn't have to go because he's a college student.
In "The Magic Show," the narrator uses the convention of the visit to the psychiatrist to have the main character explore his relationship with his father. The final three stories relate the stories of young men who become involved with "superior" women. Two are relatively inconsequential, but the third, "Entries from Skipper Bitwell's Journal," is my favorite. As the longest story (55 pages), the reader has more time to get to know Skipper, the extremely bright high school student, who becomes friends with the older, and much more mature, college coed. Readers of this publication will particularly appreciate that he meets her in the college library and that he has a long list of "must read" books for his "real" education beyond the bland lessons of high school.
I cared about the main character in most of Doble's stories. I often found myself torn between wanting to finish the story to know what happened and fearing to do so because I knew that the learning experience wouldn't be pleasant. In fact, in several instances, Doble frames the current narrative with comments from the near or distant future that place the temporarily negative outcome in a broader positive context. I felt comforted that the stories show that meeting the world with naïve honesty rather than studied pretense is not a bad strategy. Pain is necessary for growth and the loss of emotional ignorance.
Finally, Doble develops personalities through specific details and concrete incidents rather than author commentary. As in the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning, the narrators reveal more than they intend to and often admit to not understanding the motivations behind their actions.
Doble's stories are both serious and accessible. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author and would recommend this book for all but the smallest fiction collections.
Review as published in the MLA Forum, Volume III, No. 2, July 14, 2004
Robert P. Holley firstname.lastname@example.org
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