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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 21, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE ORACLE OF STONELEIGH COURT: Stories by Peter Taylor (Alfred A. Knopf: $22; 325 pp.). Peter Taylor, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "A Summons to Memphis," has a weakness for the supernatural, a weakness that can be wearing in a story collection when it shows up, along with portentous prose, in tale after tale. Individually, however, some of the stories here are effective, Taylor exploring in detail the riddles and subtleties of which human relationships are made. In the splendid title story, the narrator learns how his aunt, widow of a Tennessee congressman, attempted to groom him, and his one-time girlfriend, for positions of power; in "The Witch of Owl Mountain Springs," a different narrator recalls his summers at a resort in Tennessee, in particular a girl who became, after being jilted, a feared, perhaps powerful recluse. "The Decline and Fall of the Episcopal Church" is the book's most interesting story, describing the wily shadow-boxing among the residents of a small town over one resident's turning a disused baptismal font into a birdbath. The town's one remaining Episcopalian doesn't object to the conversion; the trouble is caused by various Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians who consider that some sacrilege has been committed despite their conviction that infant baptism is a "barbarous ritual." "The Oracle at Stoneleigh Court" also contains three one-act plays, and one reads them thinking they would work better as stories.

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