Female characters explore places that include Tibet, Florida and Las Vegas in a collection by a winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award
Tourist Season: Stories. By Enid Shomer. Random House, 256 pp., $13.95, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Enid Shomer is a thoughtful and intelligent writer whose Tourist Season is nonetheless hard to love. One problem is that Shomer lacks a strong voice. You might recognize her stories as hers only because she tends to write about current or former residents of Florida. This isn’t enough when so many other writers, like Carl Hiaasen, work the state with voices you’d know anywhere.
Here are the first lines of “Chosen,” the first story in Tourist Season: “It was a Tuesday afternoon in early June. School had been out for a week.” You can begin a story with writing that flat – sometimes – if you move on right away to more promising material. But “Chosen” is about a 59-year-old Jewish speech therapist who gets an unexpected visit from two monks who say that she is a reincarnated Buddhist lama, and who not only invites them into her home while she is alone but follows them from Florida to Tibet. The story is so implausible that it throws the pedestrian beginning into higher relief. And that implausibility has less to do with plot than with Shomer’s lack of a distinctive voice. The plot of “Chosen” is much less bizarre than some that have worked brilliantly in stories by writers with stronger voices, such as Flannery O’Connor and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
A related problem is that Shomer often gives you Cliffs Notes to characters instead of development. She writes of a Florida sheriff in “Sweethearts”: “A star high school quarterback who’d married a cheerleader and gone to Vanderbilt on a football scholarship, he had always been something of a local celebrity.” Change the name of the school (or “cheerleader” to “Homecoming Queen”) and those words could apply to anybody from Archie Manning to the most successful insurance agent in your hometown.
Shomer started out as a poet, turned to short stories and is writing on a historical novel. And there’s nothing wrong with working in several genres. But in Tourist Season, she doesn’t seem to know who she wants to be. She deals in realism in one story, semi-realism in another and magical realism in a third and with characters who range from a high school student to retirees. If the women in her collection resemble tourists in their own lives, Shomer comes across a tourist in literature, carefully mapping out journeys but still casting about for her ideal destination.
Best line: From “The Hottest Spot on Earth,” a story set in Las Vegas: “She regarded the pastel haze of downtown Las Vegas. A pyramid-shaped hotel prodded the sky. Beyond it the suburbs twinkled in a grid, like a busy switchboard.”
Worst line: From the title story, whose characters live in a condo building on Florida’s Gold Coast: “The directors were a bunch of bullies who couldn’t pass for businesspeople if they had ticker tape coming out of their butts.” I can’t quite see this one, can you?
Editor: Anika Streitfeld
Published: March 2007
Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance readers’ edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.
Furthermore: Shomer won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for her first collection or stories Imaginary Men (University of Iowa Press, 1993). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. At least 50 percent of her reviews deal with books by women. Reviews of books by female authors typically appear on Mondays and Wednesdays and books by male authors on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the sexes up for grabs at other times.