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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996

THE COLLECTED STORIES OF MAVIS GALLANT By Mavis Gallant: Random House: 887 pp., $45

December 29, 1996|MICHAEL DORRIS

Mavis Gallant's name is intimately connected with the august imprimatur of the New Yorker. She has been published consistently in that magazine's pages for more than 40 years.

Her stories are finely honed, deeply psychological, precise and compact and examine the peculiar situations of characters who exist outside the expectations of their contexts: English-speaking Quebecois, foreigners in France, Canadians in Florida, artists who have failed to attain their potential. "The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant" is a hefty doorstop of a volume. Arranged by the epoch of their content rather than by the chronological date of their publication, the pieces collectively form a kind of social history, a gallery of portraits that veer from impatient and passionate youth toward an increasingly mature, acquiescing perspective.

She writes heartbreaking stories about the impossibility of enduring love. She writes stories of confusions, rumors, ultimate disappointments, about the indignity of aging, the saving graces of patience and forgiveness and the unattainable lifelong dreams inspired by a single dared moment of passion.

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