February 9, 1986 |
"The Best American Short Stories" is one of two annual anthologies that assemble some--and I stress some-- of the best short fiction published in American and Canadian magazines during the preceding year (the other is "Prize Stories/The O. Henry Awards"; a third, "The Editors' Choice: New American Stories, made its debut last year).
November 14, 1993 |
The publicity material for this elegant collection of short stories reminds us that "Mavis Gallant has published more fiction in the New Yorker than any other writer--more than 100 stories to date." That's the kind of statement that cuts both ways: Obviously these tales are going to be witty, elegant and urbane, but in another sense many New Yorker stories are generic: Well-heeled men and women "lose their way" in ways that are easy for well-heeled readers of the New Yorker to understand.
March 8, 1991 |
James Laughlin, founder of New Directions press, has not only published adventurous contemporary fiction but found time himself to produce an impressive body of criticism, short fiction and verse. A tribute to a distinguished man of letters, "Random Stories" collects a dozen quietly powerful short stories written early in his career; it also includes an informal and candid autobiographical essay and an affectionate tribute by Octavio Paz.
December 14, 1998 |
"I know when one is dead." The line is King Lear's; the dead one, his youngest daughter Cordelia; the writer, Shakespeare. I have seen many great actors (and even actresses) read that line. And yet the performance I remember best is that of the critic and teacher Richard Sewell in a lecture theater filled with 300 college students. It was the first class of the term. We all knew that Sewell, a gentle man with a bewildered shock of white hair, had just lost his wife over the winter vacation.
May 1, 1988 |
Frederic Raphael went to Cambridge University in the early '50s and never got over it. Three decades, 14 novels, and three volumes of short stories later, Raphael's university days remain, it appears, the dominant shaping influence of his life.
November 11, 1993 |
The broken marriages and relationships that figure in Elizabeth Tallent's stories are like smashed mirrors. A picture disintegrates. The man and woman--and the children and stepchildren who are part of the broken picture--bleed as they walk barefoot through the shards, but they also catch bright glimpses of themselves and of each other. The shards are mirrors too.
December 25, 1992 |
There are two Kit Reeds, the briskly efficient plotter who wrote the taut suspense novel "Gone" under the name of Kit Craig and her alter ego, the pensive author of "Thief of Lives," 15 tales of anguished accommodation to circumstances defying control. One way and another, both the recent thriller and the short stories deal with loss and the various ways we struggle to cope with guilt, despair and the chasms that separate families and friends.
August 7, 1988 |
Australians are celebrating two centuries of European settlement on that far-flung continent. And many of them are talking about how the nation has come of age, freed at last from colonial thinking, blessed now with unlimited prospects. Murray Bail, one of Australia's most original writers, has set out to prove the same for the country's fiction, through a collection of 32 modern short stories representing two dozen writers.
June 2, 1994 |
The bubbles in "Moses Supposes" signal champagne, or someone drowning, or perhaps someone drowning in champagne. Whether it is a divorced couple nuzzling at their broken marriage after a child's trouble brings them together, or a suffering teen-ager neglected by her rich parents, or a man helplessly trying to cope with his aged, destructive parents, the despair is voiced for rueful wit. Ellen Currie, author of "Available Light," wears her rue with a certain sameness.
October 31, 1997 |
Longing can be so distasteful. Pining is palatable; neediness, repulsive; desire, a little sticky, but still it is one of the fundamental elements of life. "Desire is a figment swiftly fleeting," writes Rikki Ducornet in the title story of "The Word 'Desire,' " an ephemeral enactment upon the finite stage of the world, where flesh is a flame and a seeming. Is it true then, she thinks, all is fire?