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THE IDEAL BAKERY Stories by Donald Hall (Perennial Library/ Harper & Row: $6.95)

September 18, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

Poet, essayist and fiction writer Donald Hall has composed 12 stories in two widely varying moods. The lyrical, poignant tones lull the reader as gently as the "Christmas Snow" in the story by that title. But other tales carry a sharper, more satirical edge: In "Embarrassment," guests at a dinner party describe the most shameful moments of their lives. The final confession holds a shocking twist: A guest reports he'd dumped down a laundry chute a prostitute who'd died while making love.

In the title story, after a lifetime of family illnesses and the sorrows of early deaths, the narrator reverts to childhood memories: "Several times a week I am ten years old sitting in a booth at the Ideal Bakery, loving my tender father who smiles across the tabletop." And the author concludes, with supreme understatement: "That's my story, no story at all. A boy and his father eat crullers."

But a poet's command of images is evident throughout: "On distant hillsides, whole stands of trees lay pointing in the same direction, like combed hair."

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