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REVIEW Peeking in Windows BY DIANA ANHALT In the Shadow of Our House Stories by Scott Blackwood Southern Methodist University Press 159 pages, $19.95. “My brother and I are one bodylike good man and good wife. One flesh, one blood here battling from loyalty of heart and doing itself much harm.” Wolfram von Eschenbach “One Flesh, One Blood.” eading Scott Blackwood’s Rshort stories made me feel as if I were peering over my back fence into the dark recesses of other peoples’ liveslives unraveling out of control. Each of the nine pieces in this well-written and aptly titled first collection takes place on home ground. In an ordinary Austin neighborhood a man watches his wife and her lover carry her belongings away from his house; a pregnant adolescent attends Lamaze classes with her father; a man receives a phone call from a woman who tells him she’s calling about his wife: “She’s having a relationship with my husband.” Characters such as these tend to remind us of people we know or, more to the point, of the darker side of people who, in some ways, are disconcertingly like ourselves. Much as we are offered furtive glimpses into the lives of strangers, the protagonists here also observe each other. \(This, after all, is the stuff of gosfriends about a waitress whom he has learned is Lee Harvey Oswald’s daughter. As she serves him a drink he catch es sight of a framed newspaper photo of Jack Ruby shooting her father: “I’ve seen that image, I guess, a hundred times. It never meant anything to me. A famous man, getting shot. That’s all. I didn’t know him. But at first, sitting at the bar, I couldn’t look her in the eye… I felt like I’d cheated or something. Like I’d peeked in her window” That sense of cheating, of peeking in the window links all these stories, as does their shared geography and, on occasion, the same minutely conceived characters. The narrator of the title story, which opens the book, is an unidentified neighbor. He sets the tone for the entire collection when he refers, early on, to a flock of macaws who patrol the neighborhood: “Intelligent, rare creatures… [who] live in the shadow of our house… What might they tell us?” In so doing, he presents a bird’s eye view of a microcosm and its inhabitants. The birds belong to Odie Dodd, a retired government physician formerly stationed in Georgetown, Guyana, and the first person to stumbleliterallyover the bodies ofJim Jones and his disciples following their mass suicide, an event which has become the “axis around which [his] life winds.” But, in much the same way, all the experiences recounted here have, or will, become a life’s axis. The stories share other elements as well. Much as a piece of music is linked by recurrent themes, common literary motifs crop up insistently. Blackwood introduces fire and blood imagery in several stories and employs, for lack of a better word, cannibalistic references, which imply a natural law at work: All creatures feed off one another. When the title story refers to the Tonkawa Indians, for example, it is precisely in such a context: “This is why, when they ate their captured enemies, the Comanches, as they often did, pregnant women were given the largest portions. Courage and strength.That is what they hoped to swallow” In “Worry,” one of three linked stories, two adolescents speak of catching fish which may have fed off a drowned boy. “We’d be cannibals eating them, I said.” In the same story a character, a cook in an Indian restaurant, thinks “…that just as he had prepared their food, they, in turn, were being prepared for God’s terrible appetite. That one day God would lift them up, eat them like nan.” In each piece, one or more characters become the victim of events beyond his or her control, arisingas in all great tragedyfrom a flaw in judgment, a personal frailty, or the inability to react to a chain of circumstances. “Nostalgia,” for example, features a protagonist who loses his wife and his eyethe physical loss a consequence of some more fundamental failing. “Sometimes what you’re thinking can’t be dove-tailed with what you do,” he remarks. However, Odie Dodd’s downfall is an exception. More than most of Blackwood’s characters, he is a victim of circumstance and, given his nature, is overcome by guilt. Now old and ill, Odie has wandered away from his home in his bare feet and the local lawyer, Dennis Lipsey, around whom a second narrative unfolds, initiates a search. Save for the proximity of their houses and the condition of their suffering, these two accounts, though part of the same story, are seemingly unrelated. 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 812102