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July 19, 1998|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN FLYNN | Special To The Times

Sometimes all you need is a short burst of fiction, just enough to get you to the grocery store and back. "Legal Briefs," edited by William Bernhardt, is such a treat that you may find yourself idling in the parking lot just to finish a story. (Simon & Schuster Audio; unabridged selections; four cassettes; four hours, 30 minutes; $25; various readers.)

Courtroom dramas and legal thrillers usually take time to build tension and, well, make a case for themselves. This collection comes as a surprise, as one does not expect short stories about the legal profession to be quite so effective or clever. Some of these are cunning, some are creepy--like John Grisham's "The Birthday." Richard North Patterson contributes a particularly endearing tale, "The Client," in which an older attorney ushers a callow newcomer into the world of law. Years later, the younger man repays the favor.

Seven actors were hired to read the seven stories, and there is not one mediocre performer in the bunch. Paul Rudd brings a soft Southern accent and kind disposition to Patterson's story, and George Grizzard enhances Phillip Margolin's "The Jailhouse Lawyer," presented as a radio interview between two characters. Grizzard creates two distinct personalities, aging the voice of one, a celebrity lawyer, as he recalls the opponent who trounced him most memorably.

Another good reason to pick up this audio: Author proceeds will be donated to the Children's Defense Fund.


A collection of 12 tales by Barbara Kingsolver, "Homeland and Other Stories," has found a second life on audio. Written in 1989, it has been released in its entirety by Chivers Audio. (Six cassettes; seven hours; $10.50 if rented, $54.95 if purchased; read by Paula Parker. Information: [800] 621-0182.)

The stories are about domesticity and difficult life choices. In one story, a 10-year relationship teeters on the edge of dissolution; in another, a couple must decide whether they will have a baby. Many of the tales are told from the viewpoints of mothers and/or daughters.

As with her novels "The Bean Trees" and "Animal Dreams," Kingsolver pulls a listener into the lives of her characters. With her uncanny insight into human nature, she reveals faults and virtues without judgment. She sets the scenes and allows us to decide for ourselves how we feel about these people.

Narrator Parker, who has a pleasant but unremarkable speaking voice, relies on emotion and meaningful pauses to enhance this fiction. She successfully employs a countrified lilt with a Carolina twang for the title story, about a woman struggling to remain faithful to her grandmother's memory. ("Homeland" is the best story in the collection, thanks to Parker--and Kingsolver's economical writing.)

Parker does not attempt male accents--a good choice, as her voice is much too feminine to pull them off. Her only miscalculation is that sometimes her children sound like adults impersonating youngsters.

(Noticeably missing from this package are the titles of the stories, as Chivers did not bother to list them. If you quickly want to look up one tale that you particularly enjoyed, you're out of luck.)


Penguin Audiobooks has collected a sparkling array of modern Irish writing, "Irish Short Stories" (unabridged fiction; four cassettes; five hours, 30 minutes; $23.95; various readers). The company deserves extra praise for not including those authors, such as James Joyce, found so often in Irish anthologies that you would think it Celtic law.

The stories include Elizabeth Bowen's scary tale of feminine revenge, "Hand in Glove," and William Trevor's sad slice of Irish life, "Kathleen's Field." Brendan Behan, Liam O'Flaherty, Mary Beckett and Eugene McCabe are just a few more of the 14 writers in this collection. Each story recalls a specific and clearly drawn place and evokes a sense of longing, be it for a piano or for freedom from family bondage.

The readers--Fiona Shaw, Kate Binchy, Aidan Gillen and Anthony Jackson--are professional and lively. Each has a brogue, but none too thick for us to understand. There is much life in these readers, an energetic and talented lot whose performances are as enjoyable as the fiction they read.

Other recent collections from Penguin Audiobooks include "American Short Stories 1800-1900" and "Great Russian Short Stories."

Rochelle O'Gorman Flynn reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Dick Lochte on mysteries.

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