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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 17, 1994|DICK RORABACK

TEN TALL TALES & TRUE by Alasdair Gray. (Harcourt Brace: $19.95; 171 pp.) Alasdair Gray, elegantly grumpy author of the acclaimed "Lanark" and "Poor Things," calls himself "an elderly Glasgow pedestrian" but neglects to add that he can walk on water, or in the air, or any place he damn well pleases. He can take you along, too, as long as you're willing and don't lose touch. His stories are unpretentious and graceful, but caustic, and lead you far beyond where they leave off. The world is askew, he says, it's tilting toward the abyss. It's not past fixing, not if we care. But do we?

The message comes from all angles: A dentist blithely proposes that we deal with the ozone loss by wearing hats. Disaster looms on a train of the future, where the PA system reports changing snack-bar prices every half-hour and the computer that runs the rails announces that the train will crash into another in 8 minutes 13 seconds. In "A New World," a man who has transferred, planetarily, to a better-paying job complains that his work space is too small; no problem: He's shrunk. And out of the Scottish equivalent of left field, "The Marriage Feast," which begins, "I met Jesus Christ only once, in Cana. . . ."

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