Long established as a poet of great range and strength, Dabney Stuart, in this, his first collection of short fiction, reveals that he is also a remarkably gifted and original writer of prose.
Most of the ten stories in Sweet Lucy Wine are told from the point of view of Mark Random, a boy growing up in a small southern town. Through his interactions with his family and friends, and especially through his relationship with Sweet Lucy Wine, a woman who lives for a time with his family, Random is initiated into the complexities and contradictions of life. Sweet Lucy Wine becomes a center for Random’s curiosity and his growing sense of the mystery of the even the most familiar things. She is not quite a guide, not quite a companion, and only peripherally connected to his family, but she nonetheless becomes a touchstone presence, a name for his primary fascinations.
In the multilayered title story Random observes the strained relations between his parents, the boisterous vitality of his cousin Lord Jack Hart, and the effortless ease with which his younger brother captures Sweet Lucy Wine’s attention. Linking the elements of the story are the themes of desire and jealousy, glimmering in the facets of the parents’ edgy confrontations, the cousin’s bold flirtation with his girl friend, and Random’s own unsettling awakenings and puzzlements.
Random’s brother, Luke, figures prominently in several of the stories, the rivalry and tension between the two siblings growing finally to their poignant meeting as adults in “Homespun.” Luke is a father himself by this time, preoccupied with his son’s failure to live up to his expectations. His and Mark’s visit to their father’s deserted office and warehouse affords a dusty, nostalgic backdrop to a kind of reconciliation, touched with humor and affection.
These stories of beginning and discovery are marked throughout not only by acute observation of detail but also by delicately rendered psychological subtlety. Dabney Stuart’s heartfelt, evocative prose shows us a world that is sensuous, primal, and ultimately mysterious.
Dabney Stuart, professor of English at Washington and Lee University, is the editor of Shenandoah. He is the author of eight books of poetry, including Common Ground, Don’t Look Back, and Narcissus Dreaming, as well as a book of criticism on Nabokov. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Ploughshares, the Southern Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and other publications. Stuart has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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