cover image The Age of Grief

The Age of Grief

Jane Smiley. Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95 (213pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55848-6

With authenticity, insight, sensitivity and an unobstrusive yet absorbing prose style, Smiley (Duplicate Keys portrays pained individuals who yearn for idyllic companionship, plus the contentment and security that they imagine it entails. In ""The Pleasure of Her Company,'' one of five short stories, a lonely pediatric nurse establishes a rapport with her new neighbors. Convinced that married couples share an inviolable, almost mystical bond that outsiders cannot fathom, she makes the unwelcome discovery that their apparent harmony is a facade. ``Lily'' is the tale of a love-hungry young poet whose bickering married friends arrive for a visit; Lily boldly hastens their break-up. In ``Dynamite,'' a former Barnard College radical still wanted by the FBI impulsively heads back to New York for the reassuring presence of her family. The novella from which this slim volume takes its title brilliantly shows a husband's agony when his wife's affection turns elsewhere. During a crisis over her infidelity, he emerges as an unforgettably valiant character: vulnerable, hurt, bewildered, though never without patience. This novella's quietly dramatic resolution is both appropriate and rewarding. (September 10)