Lee K. Abbott

Book Card  -  Volume 20  -  Book Review Number 1  -  Sat, May 18, 1991 12:14 PM

TITLE: All his books...
Strangers in Paradise,
The Heart Never Fits Its Wanting,
Love is the Crooked Thing,
Dreams of Distant Lives
AUTHOR: Lee K. Abbott
PUBLISHER: Putnam (Strangers in Paridise and Dreams of Distant Lives), Algonquin (Love is the Crooked Thing), and Univeristy of Iowa (The Heart Never Fits Its Wanting)
COPYRIGHT: 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990

I suppose that this isn't really a book review, but an introduction to an author, Lee K. Abbott. I think he's one of our best short story writers going today, so I just wanted to say a few words about him. He read at OSU-Marion recently, and what follows is basically my introduction of him at that reading:

When I was growing up in L.A., if something was good and great and wonderful and surprising, we called it an "E" ticket. This was a respectful reference to the now obsolete classification of rides at Disneyland, whre the tamest, most predictable, least interesting rides, like the horse drawn fire truck and the story book boat, were a cheap "A" ticket. Other more exciting rides like Dumbo, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and the Hillbilly Bear jamboree were a "B," "C," and "D" tickets, respectively.

But the best, most thrilling, exciting, surprising, imaginative, and extravagant rides - rides that made you shriek and holllar the most; the rides where you had to wait in the longest lines and where they had warning signs posted in six languages that said things like "Do not, under any circumstances, while this ride is in progress, stand up or put any of your limbs outside the safety rails of you entertainment conveyance"; rides like the Matterhorn Bob Sleds or the Pirates of the Carribean - these rides needed the most expensive ticket, the best ticket, the most coveted ticket, an "E" ticket, for admittance.

Well, folks, I'm here to tell you that Lee K. Abbott's work is definitely an "E" ticket.

I know of few writers who write a prose, or poetry for that matter, as rich and delicious as Lee Abbott's. I know of very few writers who engage in the pure sweet joy / toy that language is: the textures, the rhythms, the sounds, the shape, the feel of words as they swirl around in your mouth and sweetly melt.

I think it's proper and right, through seemingly ironic, to bring up poetry when talking about Lee Abbott's work, for he is unremittingly, unapologetically, unremorsefully, a short story writer (one of our best living American ones for my money).

Nevertheless, I think Lee's work is more poetic than it is prosaic in its compression and engagement with and use of language. I've told Lee more than once that if he were more ambitious he could be one of our best poets. My wife has amended that statement to add that if Lee were less good looking, he could be one of our best poets (and I, who have been writing poetry seriously for over 20 years, have been mulling over that comment ever since).

On the surface, the cosmos of Lee K. Abbott's fiction is a kooky, cartoony landscape that often looks like the New Mexico desert, especially a town called "Deming." Deming is a sort of cross between Peyton Place, Twin Peaks, Lake Wobegone, and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, but with cactus, lots of sun and big grinning, often golf playing goof balls with names like Zookie Limmer, Billie Jean LaTook, Burl Perteet, Inna Lee Dufoys, and Putt Fenno.

Much of what Lee writes about is the relationshiip between men and women, about the chemistry of their love - how it, at its atomic level, comes together and interacts, splits aparts, and then reunites again in some other valence or molecular such and such. At this level, all cartooniness aside, Lee, with the seriousness of a born again surgeon operating on his minister, explores the innermost workings of the heart: our loves and our common failures and sorrows.

Lee has published four books: The Heart Never Fits its Wanting, Love is the Crooked Think, Strangers in Paradise, Dreams of Distant Lives (the latter two are the most recent and probably the most easily obtainable). Another book is due out later in 1991. Lee is the recipient of most of the commendations and gifts that our country can see its way to bestow on a serious writer in general and one of short fiction in particular, including an NEA grant, the O. Henry Prize, and most recently, a $50,000 Ohio Major Artist Fellowship.

When you read his work, please, fasten your seat belts, and do not, under any circumstances, while the story is in progress, stand up or put any of your limbs outside the safety rails of your entertainment conveyance. Enjoy.