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Gallant, Mavis.

Toronto, Macmillan. c1985. 196pp. cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-7715-9687-1. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Vivienne Denton

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

The superb stories in this new volume by Mavis Gallant show the mastery of prose style and of the short story form consistent in her work. All but one of these stories have appeared before in the prestigious New Yorker magazine. The odd man out, called "The Assembly," the minutes of a meeting of dwellers in a cooperative apartment building, is a tour de force, but in a different style, and appeared first in Harper's.

Mavis Gallant has lived in Paris since the fifties, and these stories, as the title indicates, are about the inhabitants of that city. Mavis Gallant writes about Parisians from the perspective of an outsider, yet with the familiarity of one who has lived there. The stories are a series of ironic comedies of manners, providing shrewd insights into human nature. Subjects of the stories include the obscure quarrels of hangers on in literary and artistic circles, glimpses of the lives of ex-patriots, North American and others, living in Paris, and sharp descriptions of the narrow lives and insular views of native middle-class Parisians. The title, Overhead in a Balloon, suggests a perspective that emphasizes the smallness, the pettiness of the quarrels and concerns of the characters. But even from such a height. Mavis Gallant's portraits are detailed and telling. With deft strokes of the pen she creates people recognizable anywhere for their ambitions and ineptitude, their snobbishness and loneliness. A story of the ambition of two middle-class parents for their very ordinary son, for example, is sadly universal. These complex, magnificently crafted stories show Mavis Gallant to be indeed a world-ranking writer and a master of the short story form.

Vivienne Denton, Toronto, Ont.
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