cover image FASCINATION: Stories


William Boyd, . . Knopf, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-4320-0

Boyd (Any Human Heart , etc.) is difficult to pigeonhole. The 14 stories in this book include the supernaturally inflected ("A Haunting," "Visions Fugitives"), the Chekhovian bittersweet ("The Woman on the Beach with a Dog"), the PoMo urban spiel ("Beulah Berlin, an A-Z") and the comedy of dogged lechery. The last is represented by "Adult Video," which, in journal form, records the infidelity of one Edward, a cynical graduate student, and "Fascination," in which the same Edward, married to the girlfriend he cheated on, bungles a brief foray as a freelance journalist by making a pass at a young interviewee. "A Haunting" uses an old horror motif (a man is possessed by the spirit of another man) to illuminate the character of architect Alex Rief. While the story begins well, it concludes rather flatly with a pseudoscientific explanation. Dispossession is the more everyday horror that animates "The Ghost of a Bird," in which a Doctor Moran observes the brief recovery and sudden death of a young brain-damaged soldier, Gerald Gault. Gault, who published a short story shortly before being injured in 1944, has, in his brief recovery, confused his life with that story: "what became real to Gerald Gault was a consoling phantom, a dream, an urgent wish." Boyd's characters are, as a general rule, seeking—and mostly failing—to attain the intensity of some similar imaginative act. Agent, Amanda Urban. 3-city author tour. (Jan.)