cover image Difficulties of a Bridegroom: Collected Short Stories

Difficulties of a Bridegroom: Collected Short Stories

Ted Hughes. Picador USA, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14587-3

This collection of taut, intense stories, described by England's Poet Laureate Hughes (Crow; Winter Pollen) in his foreword as a kind of ""accompaniment"" to his poems, displays his characteristic violent streak and animal-fixated animism. With themes of hunters, prey and nature's hidden power, the loose story sequence begins with ""Deadfall,"" a yarn in which a ghost may be either an old woman or a trapped fox, and culminates in ""The Head,"" a gory, magic-real tale of hunters on a prodigious slaughter spree in the jungle. Even when Hughes revisits the ordinary world of his native Yorkshire in the three most neatly constructed stories (""Sunday,"" ""The Rain Horse"" and ""The Harvesting""), man and animal clash to the point of trading places. Sometimes, Hughes delivers only mood set pieces, such as the waiting game between a secret admirer and his doppelganger at his beloved's threshold in ""The Suitor"" and the blizzard-blinded limbo of ""Snow."" Though Hughes is not a natural raconteur, these stories (one of which has never been published before; two others not previously published here; the remainder out of print since 1967) show how effectively he can concentrate his talent for forceful images into compelling narratives. (Oct.)