Asking too much

Stephen Wall

  • Lust, and Other Stories by Susan Minot
    Heinemann, 147 pp, £12.95, February 1990, ISBN 0 434 46757 X
  • In Transit by Mavis Gallant
    Faber, 229 pp, £12.99, February 1990, ISBN 0 571 14212 5
  • The Perfect Place by Sheila Kohler
    Cape, 148 pp, £11.95, February 1990, ISBN 0 224 02748 4
  • Howling at the moon by Paul Sayer
    Constable, 174 pp, £10.95, February 1990, ISBN 0 09 469590 3
  • Happiland by William Bedford
    Heinemann, 186 pp, £12.95, February 1990, ISBN 0 434 05559 X

Susan Minot’s volume is a slim one, and some of the pieces in it will not placate those who complain that short stories are too often too short, rather as one might hold it against the sonnet that it’s over after only 14 lines. Brevity can be the soul of more qualities than wit, and it would be a dim view of Webern to say that he lacks Schubert’s heavenly length. It’s true that minimalism has its own lacunal rhetoric, and leaving things out for the sake of it can be as tiresome as putting them in for the same reason, but Susan Minot has enough tact to ensure that her ellipticality doesn’t seem evasive. At their best, the attenuation of her stories persuades you that it’s the result of genuine compassion rather than a merely modish parsimony of materials, a sort of nouvelle cuisine of the conte.

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