cover image The Grandmother's Tale and Selected Stories

The Grandmother's Tale and Selected Stories

R. K. Narayan. Viking Books, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85220-8

Set in India, these 19 stories, some previously published, emphasize perceptively drawn characters and situations rather than their colorful foreign backdrops. All the tales display a wry, gentle humor. A reporter becomes aware of his own indecisiveness when he's appointed as a judge to help clear out a court's backload of cases; a childless couple collaborate, with comic results, on writing and publishing a novel. In ``A Horse and Two Goats,'' the misunderstandings that arise between people speaking different languages work to the advantage of both a poor native man and an American tourist. In ``Cat Within,'' a miserly landlord enlists the help of an exorcist to get rid of a ``spirited'' jar, unaware that the ``devilish creature'' is a very live feline stuck inside. Narayan ( The World of Nagaraj ) is a master at unraveling the personal histories of his characters: in ``Uncle,'' a boy overhears a story about his uncle's past while waiting in a shop. The title story alone disappoints slightly, because its shift in focus from a young wife to her husband leaves us wanting to know more about the wife's fate. Still, overall, the story delights, as does the rest of this exemplary collection from one of India's most distinguished men of letters. (Sept.)