Paris Stories

For the most part, I am enjoying Mavis Gallant’s book Paris Stories; I say for the most part because my response to them has been a bit uneven — I’m not sure if this is my fault or the stories’ fault. But at the halfway point of the book I can say I’ve liked most of them, especially the one I just finished, “Speck’s Idea.” The story is about a gallery owner in Paris, Speck, who is trying to revitalize the gallery and earn some money to keep himself going; he gets the idea to revive the work of the artist Hubert Cruche and spends much of the story negotiating with Cruche’s widow, a woman who has some surprises up her sleeve. Although the story is a little sad — Speck seems like someone who will always dream of success and never quite find it — but it’s charmingly told. Gallant’s wit shines through and she has a brilliant way of describing her character. Unfortunately, I failed to mark any of the brilliant passages so I can’t reproduce them here, but trust me! They are brilliant.

The stories I’ve liked best in the collection are the ones where Gallant slows down the pace a bit and takes some time to describe scenes and dialogue. Some of the stories give the full sweep of a character’s life, from birth to mature adulthood if not beyond (such as “The Moslem Wife”), rarely stopping to linger on any one moment, and these leave me a bit cold; what I find myself wishing for is more detailed interaction among the characters. I do admire Gallant’s way of summing up a life, however; in just a few phrases, she can capture the essence of a person.

Many of the stories in the book are on the long side, but two of the shorter ones are particularly good; “In Transit” describes a couple as they wait in an airport — the story manages to give you a sense of their entire history while concentrating on a brief period of time. The other one, “From the Fifteenth District” is a playful tale of haunting — except it’s the living who haunt the dead rather than the other way around.

S0 — we’ll see what the second half of the book brings.

Cross-posted here.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, Short stories

8 responses to “Paris Stories

  1. Thanks for this review. I think I might have to join the short story challenge – I’m now onto my second Alice Munro collection! As a short story novice, the challenge would probably be a good place to collect recommendations.

  2. I very much want to read this. Apart from anything else it’s such a yummy book, and I’ve heard so much about Gallant. However, I’m trying not to think about that as then I’ll go into my reading with expectations too high! It’s nice to read your balanced review.

  3. I have not read anything by Gallant . Your review make it sound as if I should, and should add this collection to my list – I’ll put it on the ‘possibly if I have time’ one for now: definitely (my lists are just growing beyond manageability)! I’ll wait for your review of the second half of the stories. Thanks for this.

  4. Charlotte — oh do join the challenge! There’s an open-ended option to make it just what you want. People have been posting about all kinds of authors.

    Litlove — well, I’d love to know what you think. I know nothing about Gallant and should really learn more. I read another story today that I liked …

    Seachanges — thanks for the comment! I’ve certainly enjoyed her and would recommend her work. And I know what you mean about the lists going crazy!

  5. I really liked the one story I read by her, and agree she has a wonderful writing style. I keep finding different authors to read and they all seem so good, so I haven’t been sticking to just one collection. I’ll have to get back to the Gallant, though.

  6. I don’t think I know anything at all about Gallant, but you make her stories sound interesting, especially the last two you mention!

  7. This was great to read. I heard about Mavis Gallant on NPR just last year and was intrigued. I can’t wait to read more about how the book progresses for you.

  8. Danielle — I’m glad you liked her; it sounds like fun to jump around from collection to collection — you’d get a wide perspective that way.

    Stefanie — I didn’t know anything about her either, except reading a few mentions on blogs. I’ll have to find out more about her life now.

    Iliana — thank you, and I’ll be sure to report back! :)

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