cover image Warner: Selected Stories

Warner: Selected Stories

Sylvia Townsend Warner. Viking Books, $24.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82467-0

This posthumous collection of 47 stories is an impressive legacy that embodies a numinous talent. A prolific author of novels, poetry and biography, Warner's mastery of her art remains exemplary in its powerful complexity, its finely honed, unsentimental perceptiveness and immediacy of description, deep sensitivity and literate, graceful style. Many of the stories (written between 1932 and 1977) are set in English villages and focus on middle-aged protagonists often enduring rather than transcending their ostensibly unremarkable lives, confronting losses and botched opportunities and sometimes breaking out of bounds to manifest themselves. But Warner can as well evoke the feelings of a young German soldier fighting for Fascism in Spain, or a devout Mexican pastry-cook. Occasionally the author's wicked wit flattens her characters and makes her stories reductive, yet her mastery of her craft sustains their quality. The collection ends with extracts from her autobiographical writings and the magical Kingdoms of Elfin , cruel fairy tales about mortality and aging, which manifest her protean imagination and powerfully celebrate the natural world viewed with a clear, unsparing eye. (Dec.)