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Collected by Alberto Manguel.

Markham (Ont.), Penguin, c1986, 353pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-14-007713-8. (Penguin Short. Fiction), CIP

Reviewed by Ruth Cosstick

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

"Every man or woman is tormented in their own way" is an awkward, but apt quotation from the introduction to a collection of short stories, each chronicling a facet of this torment. A happy family gathering, told from the point of view of one of the children, ultimately reveals an agony the games cannot disguise. The title of the book is taken from a conversation the editor had with the short story writer, William Saroyan, who referred to evening games as a catalyst for relieving stressed family relationships. The games Alberto Manguel has selected reflect his eclectic tastes that border on the macabre. His previous collections have dealt with fantasy and revenge. A voracious reader, Manguel was born in Buenos Aires, but has lived in many of the nine countries represented in this volume. Now resident in Toronto, he is becoming increasingly noteworthy as a translator, anthologizer, and critic.

Two of the stories are by Canadians, Sara Jeanette Duncan, a nineteenth-century Canadian journalist and writer is becoming more widely recognized, partly as a result of the publication of her biography, Redney,* by Marian Fowler. Her best stories are set in India, where she lived for many years. "A Mother in India" is an ironic account of long distance parenting that eventually dries up any real emotion. Sandra Birdsell is a contemporary prairie writer. "The Rock Garden" is an excerpt from her 1982 collection, Night Travellers (Turnstone). It illustrates the gulf that can exist between the reality of motherhood and a child's concept of the mother.

Ernest Hemingway tells a terse tale of violent birth and death witnessed by a young boy accompanying his doctor father to an Indian camp. "The Gardener," a haunting story written by Rudyard Kipling in memory of his only son, killed in battle, shows a little known aspect of this somewhat disparaged author. Luigi Pirandello, better known for his extraordinary stage plays, has conveyed the same juxtaposition of reality and surrealism to a mother's treatment of her three sons in Fascist Italy. An Argentinean, Marco Denevi, has written a much longer story, "Secret Ceremony," converging the real with the mythopoeic in a manner exemplified by more recent South American writers of the magic realism school. Isak Dinesen's "The Dreaming Child" has the same mystical aura.

An increasingly pitiful series of letters, written by a young boy at boarding school as he attempts to balance an impossible budget imposed by a selfishly parsimonious father, is perhaps one of the most memorable of this collection. Manguel read "Simple Arithmetic" many years ago and to his chagrin has been able to discover almost nothing about its gifted author, Virginia Moriconi. For the rest, he has provided concise biographical information for writers who range from the nineteenth century to the present. The young American, Max Apple, has been compared to Scholem Aleichem. His "Bridging" tells of the dilemma of a father coping as a single parent. The issue of abused children is raised, as well as the inherent cruelty of children at play, which Manguel claims "reflects the games of society." It is not always pleasant to witness this reflection, but it is a view that cannot be dismissed. Recommended for mature readers.

Ruth Cosstick, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.

*Reviewed vol. XII/3 May 1984 p.l15.

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