Pack of Cards: Stories 1978-1986
Though Lively (Moon Tiger; Perfect Happiness) can be satirical, even wicked, these 36 stories (two earlier collections from England plus assorted recent stories, some published in US magazines) are mostly gentle, affectionate portraits of English men and women who muddle through. While there's a host of types and situations here, most center on village streets, petty bourgeoisie society, and academia. In truth, when a character in "Venice, Now and Then" says that "Things are so inconstant. That's the trouble," she could be speaking for most of her fictional cohorts: an aging English lady with insomnia ("The Voice of God in Adelaide Terrace"); a befuddled housewife whose "treasure" of a maid turns out to be a domineering sneak-thief ("Help"); and a professor suffering through the small humiliations of academia ("Revenant as Typewriter"), among many others. In addition to "Help," other notables include: "Nothing Missing but the Samovar," about a German Anglophile who spends a touching season with a sympathetically drawn family of shabbygenteel aristocrats at the end of their economic tether; "Corruption," a delicately textured portrait involving an aging judge, his wife, a female interloper, and a box of confiscated pornography; "The Pill Box," very short and a little metafictional ("How, having glimpsed the possibility of the impossible, can the world remain as steady as you had supposed?"); and" The Dream Merchant," a whimsical portrait of a sensible man who sells dreams from 9:30-5:00 but doesn't believe in them: "that was the secret of his success." Occasionally cloying or thin, but mostly solid work, full of character, incident, and elegiac charm. (Kirkus Reviews)
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