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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 22, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

PHOTOCOPIES: Stories by John Berger (Pantheon: $22, 192 pp.). John Berger is the author, most recently, of "To the Wedding." He lives and writes in the French Alps, and has, in his many decades of writing, developed a loyal cult. These are brief portraits (not Cubist) of people in buses, in trains, on bicycles, rarely standing still but sometimes. In "A Painting of an Electric Light Bulb," Berger writes about mixing colors: "I sniffed it [the paint] and forgot my frustrations. I was 12 years old again. . . . The smell of that oil . . . took me back half a century to a promise. The promise of painting and painting, the promise of doing it every day of your life, and thinking about nothing else until you are dead!"

This, of course, describes the resonant, incisive pleasure of these short pieces; they enter the reader more like a painting than a story. In "A Man Wearing a Lacoste Sweater," Berger describes: "A man, you said to yourself, who calculated in millimeters. As he shook our hands, his smile of welcome revealed the same sense of precision concerning feelings."

While these may read like the exercises of a very experienced artist, remember that the sketches of Picasso and Van Gogh that preceded their paintings have lives and invoke muses all their own.

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