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Paris Stories Paperback – Nov 26 2002

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Commenting on Canada's unwillingness to accept Mavis Gallant as one of its greatest writers has become the hoariest of critical clichés. Sadly, this dreary old statement remains true. Gallant is feted every couple of years, but her books seem to immediately withdraw into the shadows, cherished only by the handful of writers, critics, and passionate readers who claim to have known about her all along.

Paris Stories, a new selection of Gallant's work delicately selected by Michael Ondaatje, might just be able to change all that. At 360 pages, it's long enough to provide a representative choice of her stories, but much less intimidating than her mammoth Selected Stories, and Ondaatje's hallmark might just provide the gloss of celebrity necessary to lure in a new wave of readers. No new stories have been included, but many of Gallant's masterpieces are here, including a substantial selection from her watershed From the Fifteenth District.

These are, by and large, tales of European displacement, of historical, cultural, and familial dislocation--a series of mental wounds, seemingly brought about by the Second World War, but generally with much deeper roots. Most boast brilliantly original premises, especially "Baum, Gabriel, 1935-( )," the tale of a Jewish actor in postwar Paris, orphaned by the Holocaust, who ekes out a living playing victims in television dramas about the war, and his closest friend, a German expatriate who has become a very successful TV Nazi. A couple of the more obscure stories are decidedly worthy of attention: "Grippes and Poche" is a delicious account of a rather pathetic writer's dealings with the French tax authorities, and "In Plain Sight" revisits the same writer in the bohemian squalor of his early dotage. And naturally, Gallant touchstones like "The Ice Wagon Coming Down the Street" and "The Moslem Wife" have been included.

It must be stressed that this is a beginner's selection; those who already know her work won't be satisfied with anything less than Selected Stories. But for anyone who has not encountered the work of the finest short story author to emerge from English Canada, Paris Stories is an excellent place to begin. --Jack Illingworth


“She stands among the best writers of the century.”
Canadian Forum

“Mavis Gallant’s finely honed prose captures the small details that illuminate a life.”
Publishers Weekly

“Mavis Gallant writes some of the most superbly crafted and perceptive stories of our time.”
Globe and Mail

“Ms. Gallant, who has dared to drift in a disorienting century, always trusting her own imaginative compass. Her fiction, never fooled into trying to keep up with history, will last a long time.”
New York Times Book Review

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 37 reviews
94 of 98 people found the following review helpful
A master class in short story writing June 27 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read this book based on an excellent review of it (a good primer for Mavis Gallant newbies, btw) in the April (or May?) Harper's (a great store room for hidden gems.) I had never heard of Ms. Galant before I read the review and her book, but after reading Paris Stories, all I gotta say is, Where the hell have I been since she's been writing for the past 30+ years? Actually I'm only 30, but still. Her writing is magical on so many levels that I'll only mention a couple of them: the consistency and the sublime richness of her prose - it's like really rich fudge, a phrase or two of one of the 15+ stories is often enough for one sitting; the hauntingly subtle rendering of European life; the authority and command of her voice - there is no doubt in my mind that Mavis Gallant was put on this earth to write fiction as her job, and she writes like she knows it. I love that.
2 recommendations: read Michael Ondaajte's intro (in it he mentions that he knows other writers who intentionally refrain from reading Mavis Gallant when they are writing themselves, so they don't lose confidence in themselves); read the afterward, written by the auther herself (in it she makes the wise suggestion to the reader NOT read the stories in the book back to back, but to take one's time and savor every morsal - I concur. Read this book very slowly pausing to read other stuff perhaps - you don't want to miss a word, it's that good.)
Lovers of sublime artwork in literature, read Mavis Gallant. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. I can't wait for Volume 2 to come out this fall!
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Lost in Europe Dec 3 2007
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on
Format: Paperback
For better or worse, Mavis Gallant was one of a stable of writers who, for several decades under the editorship of William Shawn, wrote what came to be known as the "typical New Yorker story." Indeed, in a recent interview, the poet Michael Casey recalled a Benjamin Cheever character mocking "a New Yorker story" as "one that goes on and on and nothing much happens but you feel sad at the end of it." And, reading Gallant's stories in the magazine over the years, I likewise felt that they were consistently well written, occasionally interesting, often melancholy, but rather long-winded and ultimately unmemorable.

The fifteen stories collected here offer readers a chance to revisit their impressions of her stories. Behind the Jamesian tea-and-crumpet facade of Gallant's prose lurk human transplants: lost souls away from home, nomads and exiles trying to find a place in the world--Gallant has based virtually her entire career on this theme. The two exceptions are about "the French man of letters" Henri Grippes, Gallant's comic, curmudgeonly, aging alter ego. (Incidentally, the title of the collection, as Michael Ondaatje notes in the introduction, is misleading: not all the stories are set in Paris, nor are they about exiles living in Paris or from Paris; instead, Gallant wrote them all in Paris--which, since Gallant has written nearly all of her fiction there, makes the moniker rather meaningless.)

One of the stylistic quirks that transform many of Gallant's stories into wrestling matches with her readers is her blithe disregard for transitional devices within and between paragraphs. Ondaatje touts this as a virtue: "the next sentence can bring a complete shift of tone or content, while a quick aside can include whole lives--sometimes halfway through one person's thought you will get another's history." At first, the reader might understandably regard these "sudden swerves" as merely untidy--that's certainly the way I felt about them when I read her stories in The New Yorker. But, as often as not, there is some method hiding in the madness; the disorder echoes the jumble of her characters' lives and especially of their thinking.

Savoring these stories, one by one over a couple of months, I found that I truly began to enjoy Gallant's idiosyncratic style and her subtly wicked wit when I reached "Speck's Ideas"--the seventh story of the collection. (At some point, I should probably go back and read the first six.) In sum, I picked up this collection to revisit my judgment of her fiction and came away with a better opinion--but also with the understanding that Gallant will always suffer from that damnably faint praise: she is an acquired taste.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Varieties of Exile Dec 20 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was delighted to see that Mavis Gallant is back in print. I have loved her work for many years, and always eager to buy the NYer when one of her stories was featured. The only drawback to much of her writing (not present in any of the stories in this collection, though) is that much of what she writes are satirical sketches of French intellectual or expatriate life (for example, the "Grippes and Poche" stories in Paris Stories) which would be totally lost on people who have not visited or lived there. The best of her stories are however profound meditations on loneliness and rootlessness. In this I believe she is an archtypal modern writer who can describe the almost universal experience of being an immigrant, refugee, or escapee from some previous stultifying existence. I think this is why so many people respond to her writing. She is, of course, also a master prose stylist. I urge any aspiring fiction writers to read Mavis Gallant. Contrary to what the above reviewer quoted, I think she can be very instructive and inspiring.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
North America's Chekhov Aug. 26 2010
By Eric Treanor - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gallant calls to mind Chekhov. She is funnier--or it's easier for me to catch her North American comic sensibility--and almost as chilling. These stories are extraordinarily well-crafted. As with Chekhov, the craft is in the service of story, not ideology and not the articulation--the self-aggrandizement--of an ego.

Gallant's art makes clear the difference between literature and propaganda, between fiction and philosophy, between life and death.

It occurs to me that in her generous afterword, after her manner, she says that art should illuminate that difference between life and death. The differences should be obvious, one would think; yet reading her stories one realizes that they are not, and to imagine that they are is a form of laziness.

Her women, especially, are riveting. I have discovered only recently the extent to which women have an inner life. I was aware of it, vaguely hoped for it, but thought that women were primarily social, outward-flowing, and consequently I badly underestimated their private complexity.

Reading Gallant in conjunction with what has transpired in my life recently has transformed the way I see women. I don't know if this transformation will manifest itself in the way I live. I hope it does.

Among the gifts Gallant gives her reader, this most of all: her artistic process is impossible to deduce. She says she begins with an image. It's fun to imagine what that image might be with each story; but imagine is all one can do. The stories are seamless. Her touch is too skilled to leave a trace of anything conclusively original or seminal, of the creative artist, the craftsperson, the technician, the necessity at the story's source.

Having read her I want to copy her. But that is not merely an impossibility; it is ludicrous.

She's as good as anyone writing short stories right now, perhaps ever. This is a superb collection. Michael Ondaatje edited the book and it includes an introduction he's authored. His introduction seems to implicitly acknowledge that she is the better writer. If it doesn't, it should.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Perfection July 4 2008
By Melissa N. - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Paris Stories" is an amazing collection of short stories by Mavis Gallant, who is best known for her work in "The New Yorker." The 15 stories in this collection are all set in Europe, and they offer memorable characters, humorous observations, witty commentary, and brilliant prose. Gallant's writing style is very rich, unique, and beautiful. In the afterword of the book, Gallant herself recommends not reading this book entirely in one sitting, and I agree. This is such a fantastic collection that readers are much better off savoring every page. I usually prefer novels to short stories, but "Paris Stories" is amazing and flawless. I highly recommend it!