cover image Skinned Alive: Stories

Skinned Alive: Stories

Edmund White. Alfred A. Knopf, $23 (254pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43476-4

This first collection of eight of his stories is also White's first fiction in eight years. Their quality varies. Best are the three autobiographical pieces written in the first person, including the title story about a middle-aged HIV-positive American writer living in Paris, and ``The Reprise,'' about a youthful dalliance and a middle-aged reconnection. Both recall the brilliance of White's autobiographical novels, A Boy's Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty, and highlight his razor-sharp wit, his careful attention to details of both scene and personality. Yet the whole collection marks a significant change in White's traditionally rococo prose. The style is more restrained throughout (as the writer/narrator of the title story remarks: ``Speaking French so long had made me simplify my thoughts--whether expressed in French or English''). This works well in the best stories, accounting for half the book's length, but lends a didacticism to those tales narrated in the third person, in which White's expository prose largely contradicts the fiction writer's mantra to show, not tell. Even the weakest narratives are distinguished by sparkling writing (``Danny's eyes looked like old costume jewelry in which the gold backing is flaking off''; ``Lovers are attracted by opposites and then struggle to turn them into twins''), but complete satisfaction is to be found elsewhere than in this volume. (July)