cover image Open to the Public: New & Collected Stories

Open to the Public: New & Collected Stories

Muriel Spark. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $24.95 (376pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1367-7

By turns (and twists) comic, whimsical and sinister (but always sparkingly sharp), this latest collection of short stories by the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Reality and Dreams nicely reflects her marvelously varied career. Earlier stories such as ""The Curtain Blown by the Breeze,"" ""Bang-Bang You're Dead"" and ""The Pawnbroker's Wife"" take place in the Central African region Spark coolly observed firsthand in all its colonial parochialism and overheated behavior. The best of these, a novella of ill-fated exile, ""The Go-Away Bird,"" spans the social comedy of the colonial community and the stay-at-home English. Spark is even funnier about the English in their natural environment, as when she portrays polite mind games in ""Twins"" or mating habits in ""A Member of the Family."" This collection also shows her fascination with the ghost story, beginning with the flashback afterlife of ""The Portobello Road."" Spark imaginatively reworks its conventions in the living ghost of ""The Leaf Sweeper,"" and the unquiet literary remains of ""The Executor."" In two of the best works here, ""The House of a Famous Poet"" (with its ominous ""abstract funeral"") and ""Open to the Public"" (its characters are possessed by the ghosts of ambition and literary fame), the hauntings are at once metaphorical, philosophical and unsettling. With 10 tales new to American readers, Open to the Public brings Spark's stories up to date with the rest of her prolific output. (Sept.)