cover image Pack of Cards

Pack of Cards

Penelope Lively. Grove/Atlantic, $19.95 (323pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1156-2

In the course of ``At the Pitt-Rivers,'' one of 34 stories in this outstanding collection by the Booker Prize-winning author, a character reflects that just looking at a chance-met girl made you feel ``a bit like you were joining in how she felt.'' That sensation of involvement pervades these stories too--achieved by perfect tone, unerring point of view and unflagging tension. Although the stories are epiphanic the lives of the protagonists can be readily imagined: these people exist. In so mundane a situation as that of ``Bus Stop,'' the conductor--set apart by an educated accent and a dignified bearing--collects a fare from a fashionable woman who turns out to be his sister-in-law, and so dismays her that she rides past her stop. Very little happens in ``Nothing Missing but the Samovar,'' about a young German at Cambridge who spends a few months doing research at a Dorset farm--except that he leaves the farm totally changed. The precise image, the unexpected detail, compassion without sentimentality, are only a few of the elements that make these stories a celebration of the narrative art. (Apr.)