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Having made her reputation on these shores with literary gothic novels (A Spell of Winter, etc.), British writer Dunmore last year demonstrated her versatility with The Siege, a novel of startling realism and clarity, set in St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) during WWII. Her second short story collection (the first to be published here) further testifies to the wide range of her interests, imagination and narrative voice. The 17 stories are all quite short and have in common a remarkable ability to encapsulate character, situation and landscape in prose that shimmers with sensuous detail. The most chilling entry, "The Fag," is a variation on The Handmaid's Tale. In a repressive future society, a couple dares to defy the state's Genetic Code for conceiving children. "Emily's Ring" gathers horror as a young girl is doomed to a lifetime of guilt. Life in a small English village is illuminated in "Coosing," in which an abusive bully warns his wife not to apprise the intended victim of his bigotry. Other stories strike a lighter note. It's fun to watch the protagonist of the title story—a woman who's beautiful, thin and famous—succumb to the lure of comfort food. Other narratives portray food as a balm and benediction, or carry a hopeful message of connection, as in "My Polish Teacher's Tie." There's a touch of the surreal in "Mason's Mini-Break," which revolves around an encounter on the Yorkshire moors, and in a parking meter's message in "Be Vigilant, Rejoice, Eat Plenty." Dunmore's touch is light, but her stories slice through her readers' defenses like laser beams. Agent, Caradoc King, U.K. (Jan.)
Release date: 01/01/2003