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.