cover image Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger: New and Selected Stories

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger: New and Selected Stories

Lee Smith, . . Algonquin/Shannon Ravenel, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-915-3

Smith slips effortlessly into the voices of her funny, smarter-than-they-look characters in her latest collection (after News of the Spirit ), containing a handful of new works among some old favorites. In “Toastmaster,” a family's dinner outing is parsed from the point of view of a brainy 11-year-old who sees through the motivations of his flaky mother and demonstrates his powers of observation when a group of joking, drunken men enter the restaurant. Similarly, “Big Girl” allows an overweight wife who has sacrificed everything for her awful husband to tell her story while attaining the ultimate emancipation. Each tale is beautifully honed and captures in subtle detail and gentle irony the essential humanity of characters who might initially strike the reader as superficial or unsympathetic. “House Tour,” for instance, finds a cynical wife and mother contemplating her possible alcoholism when her house is overrun by an endearing group of similarly life-worn but irrepressible women who mistake her house for one on their home tour. Other tales about indomitable wives and mothers will be familiar to Smith's fans and round out this thoroughly enjoyable collection. (Mar.)