cover image The Five Thousand and One Nights

The Five Thousand and One Nights

Penelope Lively. Fjord Press, $12 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-940242-73-9

The 14 straightforwardly written, deceptively simple stories in Booker Prize winner Lively's (Moon Tiger) new collection wring a frisson of surprise out of situations featuring mild-mannered, devotedly ""ordinary"" people. A woman on an idyllic holiday in Australia with her husband shocks him by revealing that she knows about his adultery: ""Mistress. She relished the word. It had overtones of satin dressing-gowns."" A bickering couple find common cause loathing the psychobabble spouted by their loopy marriage counselor. Former lovers meet again at a wedding, and a kindly older woman outwits a salesman who has come to rob her: ""She put the kettle on and went upstairs.... She made the tea and poured him a cup. This time he said thank you."" Though some of these tales are facile, the circumstances and the responses of the characters give them their snap, even when they're too well-bred to bite. (June)