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Paris Stories (2002)

Paris Stories (2002)

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4.01 of 5 Votes: 2
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1590170229 (ISBN13: 9781590170229)

About book Paris Stories (2002)

I obtained a copy of Paris Stories on the recommendation of a friend, who suggested that I compare the short stories of Canadian writer Alice Munro to those of another Canadian-born writer, Mavis Gallant. I have read many of Alice Munro’s short story collections and was pleased when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. I was skeptical that I would find another short story writer to equal Alice Munro. After reading all but the last 50+ pages of Paris Stories, I stand by my original opinion.Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant were both born in Canada but their lives were and are quite different. Alice Munro still lives in Canada and almost all of her stories are set in Canada. Mavis Gallant left Canada after college and lived almost her entire remaining life in Europe. Partially as a result, the two writers have very different styles and their stories have very different themes. Ultimately, I found Mavis Gallant’s gloomy, heavy, depressing themes too much and stopped reading, after finishing about 80% of the book. I very seldom abandon a book, especially if I have liked some of the content, as I did with Paris Stories.I did like the following stories:The Latehomecomer A story about a German soldier returning to Germany in 1950, after being held in France for five years after the end of World War II. He finds that his mother has remarried, his brother is missing and presumed dead, and the German people are tired of sympathizing with the soldiers who are just now being released and returned to the homeland. The story reminded me, in a small way, of Bernhard Schink’s novel The Homecoming. A few quotes:The secret to which I had drunk my silent toast was a girl in France, who would be a middle-aged woman, beyond my imagining now, if she had lived. She died by jumping or accidentally falling out of a fifth-floor window in Paris. Her parents had locked her in a room when they found out she was corresponding with me.I should have realized then, as I looked at Willy and his daughter, that some people never go without milk and eggs and apples, whatever the landscape, and that the sparse feast on our table had more to do with my mother's long habit of poverty — a kind of fatalistic incompetence that came from never having had enough money — than with a real shortage of food.The Moslem Wife A story about an English woman and her first-cousin husband, who run a hotel in France before, during, and after World War II. The story reminded me, in a small way, of Troubles by J.G. Farrell, which was set in Ireland after World War I. In this story, the husband leaves his wife before the war, which he spends in America. His wife’s personality is the most interesting part of the story. A few quotes:When the lease had eighty-eight years to run, she married her first cousin, Jack Ross, which was not at all what her father had had in mind. Nor would there be the useful pair of children — Jack couldn't abide them. Like Netta he came from a hotelkeeping family where the young were like blight.Her exploration of feeling was part of an unlimited capacity she seemed to have for passionate behavior, so at odds with her appearance, which had been dry and sardonic even in childhood.They had never been separated before. They kept telling each other that it was only for a short holiday — for three or four weeks. She was surprised at how neat marriage was, at how many years and feelings could be folded and put under a lid.Speck’s Idea. The story of the owner of small art gallery in Paris who tries to revive interest in the works of an artist who died some years ago. A friend of the gallery owner still has many of the artist’s best works, and the artist’s wife still lives near Paris. The owner’s attempts to interest the widow in participating in the show and the way in which she frustrates and then double-crosses him are grimly humorous. A few quotes:In spite of his constant proximity to churches he had remained rational. Generations of highly intellectual Central European agnostics and freethinkers had left in his bones a mistrust of the bogs and quicksands that lie beyond reality perceived. Neither loss nor grief nor guilt nor fear had ever moved him to appeal to the unknown — any unknown.He had been uneasily conscious of his wellborn neighbors, hanging out their windows, not missing a thing. Henriette had then gone away in a cab to join her lover, leaving Speck, the gallery, her job — everything that mattered.Hubert Cruche had been far right. Of course, there was right and right, thought Speck as he triple-locked the front door. Nowadays the Paris intelligentsia drew new lines across the past, separating coarse collaborators from fine-drawn intellectual Fascists.All that remained to them was the patch of landscape they held in common — a domain reserved for the winning, collecting, and sharing out of profits, a territory where believer and skeptic, dupe and embezzler, the loving and the faithless could walk hand in hand.Baum, Gabriel, 1935 – ( ). The story of a German who lived his entire life in France, when his parents died trying to flee during the early days of World War II. His uncle returns from South America, where he spent the war years, but never claims his brother’s child because the son cannot prove his parents ever married. Instead, the young man becomes an actor, in later life frequently playing the part of a German soldier in French movies. A few quotes:The uncle was certainly pleased to have discovered a younger Baum and may even have seen Gabriel as part of God's subtle design, bringing a surrogate son to lighten his old age, one to whom he could leave Baum garages.I have lost everything and everyone but I still have a name,” said his uncle. “I have a name to protect and defend. There is always the trace of a marriage certificate somewhere.Why is it, said Gabriel to himself, that when I was playing a wretched, desperate victim no one ever asked to have his picture taken with me? The question troubled him, seeming to proceed from the younger Gabriel, who had been absent for some time now. He hoped his unruly tenant was not on his way back, screaming for a child's version of justice, for an impossible world.The Remission.. The story of an Englishman, in his forties, who is dying and decides to move his family, including three children, to a remote, somewhat undeveloped section of the French Riviera. He does not die for several years but the effect of his decision upon his wife and children is severe. A few quotes:The alternative (Alec said to his only sister) meant queueing for death on the National Health Service, lying on a regulation mattress and rubber sheet, hearing the breath of other men dying. . . . Husband to Barbara, father to Will, Molly, and James. It did not occur to him or to anyone else that the removal from England was an act of unusual force that could rend and lacerate his children's lives as well as his own.Barbara expected them to be cunning and droll, which they were, and to steal from her, which they did, and to love her, which they seemed to. Only the children were made uneasy by these strange new adults, so squat and ill-favored, so quarrelsome and sly, so destructive of nature and pointlessly cruel to animals. But, then, the children had not read much, were unfamiliar with films, and had no legends to guide them.He believed in having exactly the amount of suffering you could pay for, no less and no more. She knew this theory did not hold water, because the Laceys and Alec's own sister had done the paying. It was too late now; they should have thought a bit sooner; and Alec was too ravaged to make a new move.Alec's children seemed to have been collected under one roof by chance, like strays, or refugees. Their narrow faces, their gray eyes, their thinness and dryness, were similar, but not alike; a stranger would not necessarily have known they were of the same father and mother. The boys still wore secondhand clothes sent from England; this was their only connection with English life.I apologize for not finding more to like in Mavis Gallant’s stories. The stories are complex and her characters all too believable, but just not very likable. Their lives are too ugly for my taste.

This book was listed at the back of Francine Prose's How to Read Like a Writer. Years ago I added the first page or two of suggested reading from Prose's list to my Amazon Wishlist. Last Christmas someone gave me Gallant's Paris Stories and I've only now read all the stories in the collection. I'm not certain I've read more beautiful, direct declaritive sentences. Gallant's prose is so clean it's perfect. Her ability to slip from one character's thoughts to another's, sometimes within the same sentence, is startling and refreshing and entertaining. These stories inspire the imagination; they make me want to write. Some are humorous, others tragic; all reach a level of care and coherency that make the act of reading them one of heightened senses, of an almost anxious pleasure which pleads for them not to end, for the sentences to keep living and breathing with each exact word, each shiny, perfect step forward. Read The Moslem Wife. Read them all, and then find copies of her many collections and read those too. That is my plan.

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Gallant is a masterful storyteller -- she reminds me a bit of Alice Munro, although for me the settings are more interesting: Paris and elsewhere in France, mostly. There is a kind of everyday melancholy in these stories -- the characters' self-awareness inevitably leads to sadness and disappointment, but it is also recognized as part of the fullness of life --"sadder but wiser"?. Because of this, many of the characters choose various self-delusions, which instead of making them seem shallow, I saw them as courageous. Life after all isn't perfect, and even the children in Gallant's stories recognize this. These are very very wonderful stories.

I have read and listened to this collection for the past two years and finally finished it today. Not until getting to the end of the collection and reading Mavis Gallant's essay on her career, writing and short fiction did I realize that I was ingesting the stories as she intended: one by one, with time to digest in between. Her stories are dense with meaning and stay with you, infusing everyday experience with new meaning and insight in light of the recently read story. Some of her characters are strange, selfish, weak, vain but all completely compelling even when repellent. They are compelling in their very humanity. Michael Ondaatje wrote the introduction and chose the 15 stories included in this collection. My favourites as I write this are "the Moslem Wife" and "August", but my favourites are sure to change as I continue to mull them over. Her writing is so deft and sure, her word use so specific that you hear her voice in every word and phrase. I highly recommend this collection.
—Meg Morden

This year I rediscovered Mavis Gallant's sharp, smart short stories. This collection brings together just a few of the dozens and dozens of stories she has published over a nearly 60 year career. I like in particular "The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street," which has an epic quality, covering years of a couple's life together in flashes of scenes and bits of wisdom.The Afterword written by the author is a version of the introduction she wrote to her much thicker Collected Stories. She advises here, as she did before, to pick the book up, read a story, put it down, read something else, then come back to it. I like that advice about story collections in general. I'll be picking this one up for a while.
—K.M. Soehnlein

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