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A satisfying smorgasbord of stories

Special to The Recorder

“Ghost Traps” by Robert Abel (University of Georgia Press, 166 pages, $18.95)

Many critics believe that the short story is the ideal literary form. Every word counts. Every action and every piece of dialogue are crucial to the narrative. Writing a short story requires purpose and precision.

Robert Abel shows the power of this medium in “Ghost Traps,” a collection of 12 tales of people at critical moments in their lives. Abel now lives in Hadley but lived in Lake Pleasant for many years.

The book was originally published in 1991 after winning the 1989 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. It has recently been reissued by the University of Georgia Press.

The protagonist in each of Abel’s stories faces a crisis. Some of these crises stem from obvious causes. In the first story, “Appetizer,” a man fishing by himself in remote Alaska encounters a hungry female bear. He tries to keep the creature at bay by catching fish to feed her as he plans his getaway.

Other characters are unaware of their crisis or the nature of the relationships that precipitate them. In “The Connoisseur,” a rich collector is forced to face the meaninglessness of his love of money and things during an expedition in the Himalayas, although he still has lessons to learn at the story’s end.

The stories vary in setting from New York to China. Most involve a touch of humor, often black humor. And several, including the title tale, involve fishing, apparently a favorite pastime of the author.

Having 12 protagonists allows the author to make some of them more sympathetic than others.

In “Commander of the Buffaloes,” African-American soldiers stationed near a racist community in Missouri during World War II devise a satisfying, appropriately bureaucratic way in which to take revenge on local bullies. Their motives and approach to life are conveyed brilliantly.

The fisherman in “New Line” is less easy to relate to. His problems stem from his own actions and habits, which involve violence and alcohol. Nevertheless, by leading us through this not-terribly-attractive man’s thought processes, Abel lets us understand if not support his behavior.

Here, as in each of the stories, the author helps readers stand in the shoes of others. In the final analysis, the desire to experience the world as others do, to stretch our minds and our souls, is the reason we read fiction. Abel serves up a satisfying smorgasbord to satisfy that hunger.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook (www.merrylion.com) and Pulling Taffy (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com.

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