cover image While the Women Are Sleeping

While the Women Are Sleeping

Javier Marías, trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, New Directions, $21.95 (176p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1663-0

These 10 stories underscore Marias's mastery of the surreal and evasive, but nobody will confuse this sampler of leftover stories with the author's best work. In the satisfying title story, an unnamed narrator, lying on the beach with his wife, can't stop speculating about the lives of another pair of beach goers: a much older man and a beautiful young woman named Inés. He eventually befriends the man, Alberto Viana, who confesses a desperate obsession with Inés, but Alberto's story doesn't satisfy the narrator, as it doesn't jibe with his invented scenario. The other longish story, "The Resignation Letter of Señor de Santiesteban," follows a young teacher named Derek Lilburn, whose new post at a prestigious school is jeopardized when he can't accept the existence of the story's title character, a benign ghost. Most of the rest of the stories feel under-developed, like sketches inspired by a clever idea, from doppelgängers to being stuck on an elevator. Marias (the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy) is a brilliant stylist and formidable intellect, but this haphazard collection does little to further his reputation. (Nov.)