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In this collection of (in fact) more than ten stories noted Scottish writer Alasdair Gray (Poor Things, 1993) again displays both his artistic talents -- the illustrations are his own -- and his sometimes quirky, but always original storytelling gifts. Many of these stories have previously appeared in British journals like The Independent and The Glasgow Herald; with a few exceptions, the most notable being a deceptively quiet horror story of rail travel in the future (""Near the Driver""), they are set in present-day Scotland. For Gray, the region is as different from England as Faulkner's Mississippi is from the rest of the US. It's a hard place of implacable pieties, rigid class structures, and an undercurrent of resentment of Tories, Toffs, and Thatcherites. But Gray is too much the artist to limit himself to bitter polemics. Humor and empathy are his preferred tools. In ""Houses and Small Labor Parties,"" the youngest member of a crew of unskilled workers poignantly confronts the realities of class and aging when he agrees to work with old Joe one Sunday on the boss's garden. An older woman who ""has no pity for men and enjoys destroying them, especially smart manipulators,"" woos her lover back because she doesn't want ""to be lonely"" (""Homeward Bound""); at a wedding, a young Glasgow woman, who deliberately dressed down knowing that her best dress would look cheap beside the English groom's relatives, is taken up and then dropped by a smug Englishman far too obsessed with the ragged jeans she wears (""You""); and a married woman, searching for her long lost faith, reads her Bible in a local pub, the only quiet place she can find, but is evicted because ""we cannot have a woman weeping in the corner of the bar. It spoils people's pleasure"" (""Are You A Lesbian?""). A remarkably unpretentious mix of wit and wisdom infused with a palpable delight in telling stories that will never turn stale.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace