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HOT JUMBO BAGEL CAFE & BAKERY 307 WEST 5th STREET AUSTIN, TX 512.477.1137 riino’ , me Your saddest Arizona girl has broken the piata and kids are clamouring underneath. He watches them, his jaw set tight. His voice, when he speaks, is thin and frightening. “What’s going to happen, Dad?” he asks. “You’ll be fine,” I say, because sometimes it’s a father’s job to lie. “Don’t worry, Cole, you’ll be great.” In this chilling commentary on interfamilial relationships and parental expectations, the central question is: “Why settle for a child who breaks down all the time when you can have a new one who won’t?” Questions such as these arise throughout the collection. Sarah at the Palace deals with a brother who is forced to travel to Las Vegas to settle his dead sister’s estate, following her mysterious death. She had, we are told, been “a waitress, a showgirl and a lunatic,” someone he had never taken seriously. But once he begins sorting out her possessions, he becomes aware that he may have blinded himself to the truth; her situation may have been a desperate one, and he is forced to ask himself: “What if she had been right? What if the boys who came in after she was dead had come in while she was living? What if they really had taken her things and her money? What if they had terrorized her?” A vivid image, developed just prior to this realization, shows the dead woman’s brother and his ex-wife watching as a blind man, clutching a bucketful of coins, gropes his way through a casino toward the nickel slot machines. “The spectacle of the human condition,” the ex-wife announces. And we recognize in this picture, not only the human condition, but the lives of Harty’s protagonists, as well. Harty develops characters who grope blindly through life until they blunder smack into the arms of reality and are faced with the possibility of settling scores, both with themselves and those around them. \(Of course, there are those who will choose to blunder onfor a confrontations with reality can result from a tragic love affair, a death, or a disappearance. In two companion piecesthe first opens the collection, the second closes it all three elements are present. What Can I Tell You About My Brother? the first of the two, opens with this revelation: “On his first night home from marine boot camp, my brother [Victor] killed Rob Dawson’s German Shepherd with a Philip’s screwdriver.” \(The dog belonged to the man who had replaced Victor in younger brother and narrator, Torn, a high school sophomore, is torn between his need to survive in a community where Victor is regarded as a madman and his devotion to his brother, on whom he relies. Tom’s mother is dead and his father drinks, is abusive, and suffers from a heart condition. Of him, Torn writes: “He had treated me in ways that would make me hate him if he were anyone else.” \(Like Ryan in Crossroads, In the companion piece, September, we learn of Tom’s breakdown when confronted with a series of personal tragedies and of his attempts to cope. Written a few years later, it is directed to his former lover, a schoolmate’s deaf mother. Harty ends September, with a question: “What were you saying that morning I woke up and saw you above me and your lips were moving?” Like the blind man groping his way across the casino, unable to see, Torn, despite his proximity to his deaf lover, is unable to One way or another, every one of these glorious stories ends with a questionan implied one. Each leaves room for doubt and speculation and, in so doing, holds out a tenuous hope. Diana Anhalt is lives in Mexico City. She is the author of A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 11/7/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23