Rebecca Lee, a creative writing professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, certainly entrenches her new book, Bobcat and Other Stories, in the world of academia. The collection includes an assortment of stodgy professors and naive students, as well as dreamy campus courtyards glowing under the moonlight.
However, Lee balances intellect with whimsy. Her prose is so great that it can cause you to disregard the story line and instead relish the moment, enthralled with her skills as a wordsmith.
For example, there's In the Banks of the Vistula, a story about a plagiarist and her teacher, a Polish emigre. Lee writes: "I heard about a thousand birds cry, and I craned my neck to see them lighting out from the tips of elms. They looked like ideas would if released suddenly from the page and given bodies.''
In another, Fialta, a story about an aging architect and his women (think Frank Lloyd Wright), Lee's prose become poetry. She describes romance this way: "… what is a love affair if not a little boat, pushing off from shore, its tilting, untethered bob, its sensitivity to one's quietest gestures?''
And in Slatland, about a woman who visited a kooky child psychologist as a youngster only to venture into his office years later when she is faced with infidelity, Lee describes the faithless lover as showing signs "similar to the signs of an immigrant in a new country, his heart torn in two.''
If one of the seven stories was the standout, it would be the title story, Bobcat. With it, Lee succeeds at bringing the brutality one might come up against in the wild into a dinner party.
She achieves this by playing with her words, moving the story along, much like a beast sneaking and lurking for prey.
Never does a wild animal leap across the dining room table, but there is a series of peculiar guests who appear clueless about the ruthlessness about to enter their lives. For example, there's Kitty, whose husband is having an affair. As the roast is being cut, she innocently chants "meat, meat, meat,'' seemingly unaware that her domestic bliss could be destroyed any minute.
And, with an uninvited guest at the door comes the biggest sneak attack of all. It leaves not only a hostess devastated, but the reader stunned and in awe with this wonderful surprise ending.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected]