Short works representative of Byatt’s beautifully evocative prose.



A career-spanning selection of short stories from one of England’s distinctive voices.

Byatt is known for her novels—especially the Booker Prize–winning Possession (1990)—but the short story format suits her beautifully as well. She favors adjective-spangled cascades of images, excavates the dictionary for rare specimens, and sends iambs and anapests cavorting across the paragraphs. A little of this can go a long way (though, as the novels demonstrate, sometimes a lot can go even further). These stories, selected from periodicals and previous collections, present compact versions of her favored themes, preoccupations, strengths, and occasionally weaknesses, and they’re short enough that her densely decorative prose rarely grows wearisome. As readers of Possession and Angels and Insects (1993) know, she has an affinity for the Victorian era; in “Precipice-Encurled,” an ambitious young painter falls in love with the young lady he’s sketching before losing more than just his heart as he pursues a visual idea inspired by one of Monsieur Monet’s new paintings. Disdaining the austerity of modernism, Byatt leaps forward to postmodernism, with its framing devices and art about art. In “Raw Material,” for instance, a pair of exquisite descriptions of Victorian housework—“How We Used To Black-Lead Stoves” and “Wash Day”—are enclosed in a semisatirical melodrama about a creative writing teacher and his students. Many of the stories contain jeweler’s-loupe views of artists and art, whether the artists in question are sculptors, painters, or cooks. Many of the stories address classic feminist questions about women’s work: To what extent are women free to choose how to express their creativity, and how is their work valued? Not all of the stories have aged well; in “The Chinese Lobster,” Byatt’s signature lyrical exoticism is not so charming when she applies it to the proprietors of a Chinese restaurant and the food they serve, and a Dean of Women Students unquestioningly accepting the word of a Distinguished Visiting Professor over that of the graduate student who has accused him of rape feels rather different in the post–Me Too era than it must have to its 20th-century readers. Some of the best stories in the collection are fairy tales or fantasies; in “A Stone Woman,” for example, a woman in mourning for her mother turns to stone—literally.

Short works representative of Byatt’s beautifully evocative prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-32158-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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