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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 13, 2002

Author weaves humor into tales of Hawai'i

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Book Editor

Book signing by Catherine Tarleton

Junior League "Herstory" fund-raiser, Goodale Publishing booth

7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday

Ko'olau Golf Club

"Potluck: Stories That Taste Like Hawai'i" by Catherine Bridges Tarleton. Goodale Press, paper, $12.95.

Catherine Tarleton's essays and short stories do, indeed, "taste like Hawai'i," just as advertised. This insightful collection traces her evolution from visitor to resident, from an innocent who brings pasta salad to the potluck to someone who owns a rice cooker and knows how to make a pretty decent chicken hekka.

The range here is from essays with the ring of "this really happened" to literary short stories with a flavor of mystical realism — a goddess who gets her man, a mysterious visitor who helps a woman do what she has to do, strange doings at a hotel work site.

The writer, who lives in Waikoloa on Hawai'i island, grew up in another storytelling culture — in Gloucester, Va. — and although her literary fiction is well-done and thought-provoking, she seems at her best when she's speaking from her own life experience.

"Pulukaumaka (Obsession)," is an impressive piece with a driving David Mamet-style rhythm created by a repeated phrase: "I try to call Hawai'i ... " It evokes the period after her first visit to the Islands in 1978, when Tarleton wanted nothing but to get back here.

Her unsatisfied longing expresses itself in phone calls — about jobs, about airfares and hotel reservations, about ordering Island care packages. We feel her desperation as she hangs on, turning her back on a wintery landscape, listening even to busy signals that come from the place she loves.

Tarleton has a deft hand with humor.

In "The Pet Situation," a pair of inexperienced bird owners struggle to treat a macaw's broken toenail. It's one of those "it wasn't funny at the time" tales that make great talk-story fodder on the lanai after dinner. Several of the pieces in this collection have that flavor — one that hooks the reader as surely as the expectant pause when Auntie says, "I goin' tell you one story ... "