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