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The Times
  • Book Notes: George Rosen’s short stories

  • Each of George Rosen’s seven short stories, “The Immanence of God in the Tropics,” is a beautifully thorough and always surprising immersion. Rarely do short stories take you so far, so deep, so quickly. His elegantly unadorned sentences reorient and implant the reader into a new and fully realized dimension — like hypnosis might. You are delivered elsewhere before awareness fully strikes.

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  • “The Immanence of God in the Tropics.” By George Rosen, Leapfrog Press, Fredonia, NY, 2012. 170 pages. $15.95.
    Each of George Rosen’s seven short stories, “The Immanence of God in the Tropics,” is a beautifully thorough and always surprising immersion. Rarely do short stories take you so far, so deep, so quickly. His elegantly unadorned sentences reorient and implant the reader into a new and fully realized dimension — like hypnosis might. You are delivered elsewhere before awareness fully strikes.
    One story takes you to a clever soccer match in Kenya, where a losing team orchestrates a very amusing win. Another positions you in a blazing post-funeral sauna taken by a handful of aging men whose talk veers to earlier times and distant places. You bear witness to a weary lay missionary’s failing efforts to save his young charge from prison. Also harrowing is the father of 12’s clumsy attempt at theft that earns him the punishment he least desires. And in the title story, a novice missionary slowly withdraws from his intended purpose to enter a quieter, more contemplative life.
    In that title story, set in East Africa in 1858, Andrew Seavey’s voyage from England to Africa fills him with a perpetual seasickness that drains and deflates him. He feels himself disappearing. A talk he has with an earnest black convert further upends his basic assumptions. At a layover on an Arab island, with time to walk and think and talk deeply with others, his disorientation heightens. The consul, remarking on the delicious food, asks Seavey, “Have you ever eaten … ham from a pig that’s never had to shiver in his life?” This remark, so funny and surprising, illustrates the totality and yet the subtlety of Seavey’s quiet struggle. He says, “The ground has shifted for me.”
    Amid the intensity of Seavey’s conflict is a series of worlds Rosen creates, from life aboard the sailing ship to a fascinating discussion about what the life of a missionary is really like. “A tolerance for boredom is the first requirement of a successful missionary.”
    In “Our Big Game” two acquaintances end up sparring on the soccer field. Gichuru is headmaster at a poor, struggling school in Kenya, while MacIntyre runs a much more well-to-do institution with a winning soccer team. When it comes time for the two teams to play each other, MacIntyre carps about the inadequacy of Gichuru’s soccer field so they move the game to neutral ground and the antics begin.
    “One of Mac’s front lines — their brains and brows inflamed with fever — can speed down the field like the wall of a burning forest, scorching everything before them,” writes Rosen. The soccer ball, he writes, is “afire like Mac’s will with a heat so intense that it consumes the flesh.” In this and the other stories, characters come quickly alive with their problems, conflicts and thoughts.
    Page 2 of 2 - I especially enjoyed “The Sauna After Ted’s Funeral” with its depiction of four naked mourners taking a sauna, “bellies looming through the mist,” conversation ranging far and wide. Alden relates an amazing story, as these men go on with their sauna, about a picnic he had near a lake in Mexico. The lake flooded unexpectedly and two of the picnickers, one a young boy, are carried away. Rosen’s description, via Alden, of the picnic, the panorama, the sudden and shocking flood — all amid the dipping of the copper ladle in the water, the water flung on heated stones, the men’s loose flesh — is mesmerizing. It’s a pleasure to dip into these stories, every bit as rejuvenating and transformative as the post-funeral sauna.
    Rosen is a longtime Gloucester resident who attended Harvard and volunteered with the Peace Corps in Kenya. All of the stories published here have been published in magazines such as Harper’s and Harvard Review. He is also the author of “Black Money: A Novel of Modern Africa.”
    Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.

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