cover image Herself in Love and Other Stories

Herself in Love and Other Stories

Marianne Wiggins. Viking Books, $16.95 (183pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81552-4

As evidenced in this provocative collection of short stories, Wiggins seems able to change mood and locale, voice and narrative point of view, with dazzling skill. These 14 tales have a fine variety, but the best are those that involve characters who speak in regional patois and idiosyncratic turns of phrase. In ""Ridin' Up Front with Carl and Marl,'' a trio of Southerners encounters a hardbitten photographer from Massachusetts who tells them, ``You people have no sense of what life's really like''; but she's wrong. ``The Gentleman's Arms'' takes place in England, where would-be lovers united after 20 years encounter a monumental let-down, and at the end, a poignant moment of insight. ``Stonewall Jackson's Wife'' herself is the ghostly narrator of that story, which surges with sadness. The narrator's colloquial speech places ``Insomnia'' squarely in the `80s; her wry, bitter voice is oddly and immensely affecting. That same bitterness unmitigated by humor is not so successful in ``Quicksand'' and ``Pleasure''; and one tale, ``Among the Impressionists,'' is too quirky. But the title story, which ends the collection, embodies Wiggins's best skills: her ability to illuminate commonplace truths with a precise, clarifying vision. Wiggin's stories do not give up their secrets easily; but their subtle unfolding can cause chills along the reader's spine. (August 17)