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Mary Ladd Gavell, Author . Random $21.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-50612-3

The story behind this collection is nearly as intriguing as the collection itself. The late Gavell was the managing editor of Psychiatry magazine and wrote stories, all unpublished, in her spare time. When she died at the age of 47 in 1967, the magazine published one of her stories—"The Rotifer"—as a tribute. The story was chosen for 1968's Best American Short Stories and then tabbed last year by John Updike for the Best American Short Stories of the Century, standing alongside those of Cather, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Carver and others. The 16 short fictions collected here prove that "The Rotifer" was no fluke; its easy complexity and sudden punch may remind readers of Alice Munro. Gavell's territory is that quintessential 1960s phenomenon, the nuclear family. With straightforward, cutting prose she unveils lives of elegant despair, much like Lorrie Moore, if Moore's characters were housewives who made appearances at the American Legion Hall. In "The Swing," an elderly woman is patiently sharing a house with an ailing husband. Their only son, emotionally reserved and uncommunicative, lives on the other side of town. One evening he walks into her backyard—except that it's her son of 30 years earlier, a warm, enthusiastic seven-year-old boy. The denouement is a gentle surprise. Gavell demonstrates her range in "Sober, Exper., Work Guar.," in which she inhabits the unconsciously funny voice of a working-class plasterer plying his trade in an upper-class home. If anything dates these stories, it's that they feature neat endings, but many readers may find comfort in that now-rare style of short-story writing. Anthony Gavell's tribute to his mother and an introduction by Kaye Gibbons illuminate Gavell's qualities as a writer and as a woman of her times. Agent, David McCormick. (Aug. 21)

Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
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Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-375-75822-5
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