Paradise_Dance.GIF (35444 bytes)

An Introduction to the Stories of Michael Lee
By James Carroll

The town of Albright, Massachusetts takes its character from where it is—on the margins—and from what it was—a place built around a working mill. Now the mill is gone, and the world elsewhere has moved on. The people of Albright carry the weight of the past, with little sense of future. Paradise, to them, is the movie theater downtown, and it won’t be long before the highway Cineplex does to it what time has done to the town.

The subjects of these unfailingly poignant stories are the people of Albright—waitresses, mechanics, small business owners, teachers, the mayor’s son, vets, honky-tonk musicians, a little leaguer, guys with a great idea for a miniature golf course, town workers, the mayor’s wife. A writing workshop, several bars, the shadows of Vietnam, the junkyard of wrecked marriages, Albright Hospital, the Albright Memorial Cemetery, the school, a weedy industrial park, and always, endlessly, the road—these are the places in which the stories unfold. Each one is entirely particular, rendering the experience of one or two people whom we have never met before, yet they are familiar. We know these people well, yet Lee has written them unlike any other writer. And what their places add up to—no paradise—is nothing less than the earth itself, which is more than enough. The geography of disappointment, too, can be a wonder.

Michael Lee’s writing is inventive, strong, luminous, but his achievement in these stories goes beyond the rare clarity of voice and style that is their mark. His achievement is to have taken the mundane experience of ordinary human beings with absolute seriousness, and in doing so he lays bare—no, celebrates—the dignity and value that adhere in every life. In Lee’s hands, the facts of failure, even of offense, open into the possibility of acceptance. This is so even for those characters who are trapped in time, the desperadoes and losers and brawlers who, because of the compassion with which Lee writes of them, seem not so different from the reader, safe in a chair. Because of Lee, in fact, the reader, for a while, becomes trapped in time, too—a confrontation through fiction with the hard truth of life, that, as they might say in Albright, so aren’t we all?

What is eternity, Lee asks, but standing under a fly ball, driving to Taos, waiting for the ambulance, thinking of what to engrave on a tombstone, keeping a secret when there is none, regretting a marriage, asking for a date, hoping for the Red Sox? And what is the ordinary world when observed with feeling, wisdom, generosity, and, yes, love—if not paradise after all? Such is the precious, brave work of Michael Lee in this book. These stores open into eternity like that, and they faithfully render the earth—this one, ours—as the garden we wrongly think we lost.


James Carroll is the author of nine novels, the National Book Award-winning memoir An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us, and most recently Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews—A History. His op-ed column appears weekly in the the Boston Globe. He lives in Boston with his family.

Back to:
Paradise Dance
PUB DATE: August, 2002
CATEGORY: Fiction / Short Stories
PAGES: 200
TRIM: 6 x 9
ISBN: 0-9679520-6-9
PRICE: $14.95/ Paperback Original