LIFE STUDIES: Stories

Susan Vreeland, Author , read by Karen White. Penguin Audio $29.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-14-305717-8

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Fiction LIFE STUDIES: Stories Susan Vreeland , read by Karen White. Penguin Audio , unabridged, nine CDs, 10.5 hrs., $29.95 ISBN 0-14-305717-0

Like her novels, Vreeland's short stories make one consider what it means to create art and what role art plays in everyday life. The first handful of stories revolve around the French Impressionists, but though Renoir, Manet and the like appear, the stories focus on their mistresses, daughters, neighbors and nannies. Narrator White's lucid reading style and pleasant French accent are a consistent delight, and her dramatic interpretation helps each story stand out from the others. Her voice takes on a deceptive innocence when she portrays the wet nurse who cared for Berthe Morisot's baby and a distinct tone of worldliness for Manet's wife when she admits to knowing that her husband slept with many of his models before dying of syphilis. Despite White's probing interpretations, French names and places occasionally blur together, and listeners may be grateful to find that the stories in the second half contain more modern settings. In one especially moving story, a contemporary American foster child forces a nun to understand why the Madonnas painted by Italian masters feel inadequate to her. Though the writing is often luminous, the pointed focus on art makes the collection somewhat repetitive. White's highly competent narration, however, helps alleviate this burden. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Forecasts, Oct. 18, 2004). (Jan.)