The late Williams, National Book Award winner (The Hair of Harold Roux, 1978), is here well served with a collection of 15 stories—precise acts of attention, rich with detail of New Hampshire, of family relationships, and conflicts between ordinary people, and often concerned with hunting and fishing. Many originally appeared in The New Yorker and Esquire; most were written in the 50's and 60's. Some of the best include ``The Snows of Minnesota,'' about a boy in the fifth grade forced to move with his parents from Minnesota to New Hampshire. After a snowstorm, the boy builds a secret snow fort with a series of tunnels and becomes traumatized when it's destroyed—in a lyrical finish, the sensitive father understands: ``He was trying to make Duluth.'' ``The Voyage of the Cosmogon,'' likewise, concerns a relocated eighth-grader who escapes from a suicidal mother having an affair with a married cop by creating a fantasy life related to a TV program. As in many of the pieces here, the ending is breathtaking: the mother decides against suicide only because there's something, maybe not love, between herself and her son—``a small thing among the thoughtless cruelties of the universe.'' ``Goose Pond'' is about a 56-year-old man who faces his wife's death by killing a deer with a bow and arrow, and who finally contents himself with ``the dangerous journey down the world.'' ``The Skier's Progress'' gives comeuppance to a local ski hero, while ``The Old Dancers'' lyrically elbows an elderly couple, both married for the second time, to live through the wife's illness and discover a love stronger than habit. ``Certainties,'' another hunting story, laments that ``There are few dark places left on our maps....'' John Irving introduces this collection, one of the most powerful of the year. With any luck, it will lead readers to rediscover Williams's novels.
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