In this, her ninth collection of short stories, the author of "Overhead in a Balloon" attempts to describe with precision the quirks of human nature and the limits of compassion. A host of characters are surveyed as they struggle to transcend the imprisonment of their provisional lives.
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A master of supple mandarin prose, Gallant (Home Truths, From the Fifteenth District, Overhead in a Balloon) here digs out 20 stories first published in The New Yorker in the 1950's and 1960's - almost all textbook lessons in the art of the well-made short story. In the first section ("Parents and Children"), the most notable include "The Wedding Ring," a vignette about a daughter who both witnesses and imagines the end of her parents' marriage; "The End of the World," in which a son stays with his dying father during his lonely last days; and the delicately rendered "An Emergency Case," about a boy in a hospital who is slowly coming (or refusing to come) to the understanding that his parents have died. The second section ("Youth, Pursuit, and Various Entanglements") offers "When We Were Nearly Young," a portrait of lost youth about four friends in Madrid "all waiting for money"; "Malcolm and Bea" is about a marriage that is "at extremes of tension," in part because the man is British, the woman Canadian; and the title story, set at the Helsinki airport, in which a young French couple, newly married, explore their own ideas about each other as the young Frenchman, who speaks English, listens in on an elderly American couple. The last section ("Relatives, Friends and Adult Confusion") is interesting for "Careless Talk," in which two women in France are drawn together by their language - English; and for "Better Times," where an improvident married couple caretake an aunt's house for a squalid season. Cosmopolitan, lucid in conception, and subtle in execution: occasionally a little too emotionally muted, perhaps, but even so, each story is a brightly textured object of aesthetic pleasure. (Kirkus Reviews)