The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant

Mavis Llant, Author, Mavis Gallant, Author Random House (NY) $45 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-44886-0
A reporter determined to write fiction, Gallant left her Montreal home in 1950 and settled in Paris a decade later. By the time she took up residence on the Left Bank, she'd already been publishing in the New Yorker for nearly 10 years, and she's continued to appear there all but exclusively. Of the 119 stories she's contributed over a span of five decades, 51 are collected here in the kind of volume that causes an author's reputation to take quantum leaps--even if that reputation is already, like Gallant's, sterling. (A 52nd story first published in Mademoiselle completes the mix.) A preface in which Gallant ruminates about her life and the source of her tales shimmers with the same crystalline prose as the stories themselves. It's clear that Gallant's own expatriate history has dictated her fictive concerns. Her characters seem to wander through her stories carting battered valises that hold their various eccentricities, complicated political affiliations and quirky nationalistic tendencies. Drawn from a population roughly the size of Charles Dickens's and set down on the page with a Jane Austen-like wit, Gallant's actively inactive protagonists always endeavor to do the best they can with what they've got. If that's not good enough, they trick themselves into believing it'll do. Carol in ""The Other Paris"" agrees to marry Howard because she thinks he'll make her life magical. When he doesn't, she sticks by him because she knows that, years later, she ""would think, once more, `Paris,' and after a while... she would remember it and describe it and finally believe it as it had never been at all.'' Gallant arranges the stories by decade, with four additional sections devoted to recurring characters. Perhaps the most vivid of these is Linnet Muir, an autobiographical figure who often describes her girlhood. In ""The Doctor,'' Linnet, remarking sardonically on her strict upbringing, says: ""Whatever I was doing, I would be told to do something else immediately.... Parents in bitter climates have a fixed idea about driving children out to be frozen.'' Another repeater is Henri Grippes, a ""French man of letters'' whose self-possession is satirized elegantly in four stories. In ""Grippes and Poche,'' the intrepid author confounds himself by using his taxman--to whom he thinks he's quite superior--as the hero of a series of novels. For years it's seemed that Gallant was designing her stories as exquisite homesteads for readers to inhabit at their leisure. The publication of this important book makes it apparent that what she's actually been constructing is a gleaming skyscraper on the literary landscape. 15,000 first printing. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
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