09 May 2012

The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant

And what a collection it is! 887 pages of them. In her preface, Gallant says "This is a heavy volume, and if I had included everything, even nearly everything, it would have become one of those tomes that can't be read in comfort and that are no good for anything except as a weight on sliced cucumbers."

I am nearly done with it, having now gotten my warning notice from the Library, after keeping it for the absolute maximum amount of time allowed, and what I think is that I'll have to buy a copy to keep. It's wonderful, a wonderful big pile of beautiful writing.

The stories are often set in Paris or Montreal. Gallant, Canadian by birth, has spent much (or most?) of her life in Paris. There are stories set in the thirties, forties, and up to the nineties: indeed, that's how most of the book is divided. The last four sections are each comprised of stories about the same characters: Linnet Muir; The Carette Sisters;  Edouard, Juliette, Lena; and Henri Grippes.

Characters are often young, from childhood to early adulthood, but there are also many well drawn older people. Refugees figure importantly in her wartime stories. The culture and customs of both Paris and Montreal are rendered vividly. Montreal before the 1960s was quite a bit different than it is now -- here is a little bit from "1933" in the Carette Sisters section:

Mme. Carette had a word with Berthe about Irish marriages: An Irish marriage, while not to be sought, need not be scorned. The Irish were not English. God had sent them to Canada to keep people from marrying Protestants.
And from the preface, here are Gallant's own instructions:

There is something I keep wanting to say about reading short stories. I am doing it now, because I may never have another occasion. Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.
18 May 2012:

A friend asked if I had any particular favorites among the stories, so I spent a little time going back through the book (so overdue from the library that I fear for my freedom) and came up with this:

The Preface
The Moslem Wife
The Four Seasons
The Fenton Child
By the Sea
The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street
An Unmarried Man's Summer
April Fish (wow)
The End of the World
In the Tunnel
A State of Affairs
Mlle. Dias De Corta
Scarves, Beads, Sandals
All the Linnet Muir stories
All the Carette Sisters stories