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Wednesday, May 16th, 2001


The Torturer's Apprentice: Stories

by John Biguenet

A review by Adrienne Miller

GIST: These fourteen erudite, deeply religious, deeply moral stories are stunningly impressive (Catholic?) in their range. John Biguenet, who won an O. Henry Award for his Esquire short story "Rose" (included in this collection), is a marvelously talented writer whose influences seem to be (if I may be so bold): Faulkner, Flaubert and Chekhov. And how huge a list is that?

UPSHOT: In Biguenet's story "A Vulgar Soul," a man is afflicted with stigmata, only to find out that his doctor has suspected all along that he's been lying; in "I Am Not a Jew," a guy gets attacked in Germany by a group of skinheads as he's kneeling at a graveside - he escapes by pleading, "I'm not a Jew," a defense that's later deemed morally suspect by his wife. Like a Chekhov story, each of these contains a devastating twist at the end.

I couldn't get Chekhov out of my head when reading Biguenet. This line, for instance, from the story "Fatherhood," "Like every happy man, Steven began to imagine that the sea upon which he drifted was infinite, unbounded by the ragged shoals and craggy beaches upon which he would soon founder," could have come straight from, say, Chekhov's "The Misfortune" (a story with the sentence, "it is only by being in trouble that people can understand how far from easy it is to be the master of one's feelings and thoughts"). A superb collection from a fascinating writer.

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