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Wednesday, April 4, 2007 01:42 am

Giving a voice to our grief

Petrakis weaves a powerful, wrenching tale in Legends of Glory

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Legends of Glory and Other Stories By Harry Mark Petrakis (Southern Illinois University Press, 2007, 184 pages, $25)
Untitled Document Harry Mark Petrakis’ newest collection consists of eight short stories and a novella. The short stories are vintage Petrakis, rooted in Chicago’s Greek community, spare and eloquent in the telling — and often with surprising endings. In “Beauty’s Daughter,” which takes place on Halsted Street, a mother’s brief happiness with a lover changes for the better both the woman’s marriage and her son. In “The Wisdom of Solon,” a successful middle-aged business man is shocked to discover that he has married a randy young wife and has a lot of work ahead. In “Christina’s Summer,” a grown man remembers his 13th summer and his friendship with Christina, a young woman in her twenties, at a resort above Chain of Lakes. It is his last summer of boyhood — he will be working next year — and it is his first summer of manhood as he begins to realize the power of sexuality and love. These are stories of loss and gain, tales of time’s ravages and of the amazing discoveries of youth. These are Petrakis stories, moments of joy and sorrow, of the newest and the most ancient perceptions, shaped from a culture aware of and conditioned by its epic survival. But they do not quite prepare a reader for “Legends of Glory,” the novella, a narrative set in a small town in northern Indiana this side of Lake Michigan. Dan Scott teaches high school in Provincefield. He has never been called to serve in the military, but he comes from a line of distinguished patriots who have served in times past. His father earned the Medal of Honor at Omaha Beach. Dan and his wife, Molly, have one son, Noah, a town favorite, both athlete and scholar. He’s now at the University of Michigan, but as a boy he always went to visit his grandfather at the veterans home to hear his stories of the Normandy invasion.  
Dan Scott at one point is seen in his classroom, where he is teaching The Trojan Women of Euripides, and the passage that is being read is a cruel one. That cruelty will be nailed home for Molly Scott, who is opposed to the war in Iraq, and for Dan, and for the grandfather stricken by the knowledge that his stories may have influenced his grandson’s decision. It will come when Noah joins the Marines, is sent to Iraq and dies there.
But I do not want to comment further on this powerful, wrenching story. A reader will see how well Petrakis has controlled so difficult a narration and given voice to a grief that haunts everyone these days. The novelist Father Andrew Greeley has written that “Legends of Glory” is a masterpiece. Certainly it is a transcendent work.
John Knoepfle is a poet and professor emeritus of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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