PRESENT FEARS by Elisabeth Russell Taylor


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 An exceptional debut collection in which Taylor (I is Another, 1996, etc.) proves that a sharp eye and clear voice still carry more weight than loud, cheap thrills. In the hands of a master, understatement provokes interest rather than boredom, and Taylor has the tone pitched just right: The world her characters inhabit is ordinary, immediately recognizable, and transparent enough to allow a clear view of the dramas that are enacted in it. Set mostly in Britain during the years immediately before or after the Second World War, these are narratives in which true emotions are invariably submerged, and stubborn and embarrassing eruptions are affecting precisely because of the deep reserve that they disrupt. ``Annie's Story,'' for example, recounts the confusions and fear of a young girl who slowly realizes that her mother has abandoned her, while ``The Sin of the Father'' portrays the moral decay of a London society doctor whose sense of family duties ultimately destroys his family feeling. The spiteful father of ``Like Father Like Son'' finds to his dismay that his son actually benefits from his mistreatment, while the floozy wife of ``The Dancing Partners'' discovers to her horror that her deceived husband has deceits of his own. The extreme subtlety of Taylor's approach may be out of keeping with contemporary tastes and could well have degenerated into obscurity and inertia if not for the lucid and engaging precision of her style, which has an epigrammatic edge (``It is a fact of modern life that the amount of a man's salary is calculated in inverse proportion to the satisfaction his job affords him, and its social relevance'') that's reminiscent of Austen and almost as robust as Fielding. A rare treat that impresses on the first reading and--even more unusual--improves on the second.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1997
ISBN: 1-900850-04-4
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Arcadia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997