LAST COURTESIES by Ella Leffland


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Leffland (Rumors of Peace, Mrs. Munck) crams her short fiction with an oddness that, in her novels, translates as character but in less space reads as sheer psychological rococo. The visions are frequently bleak: a mad housemaid mutilates herself; a spinster is murdered; a boy grows up in the foster care of a Danish aunt and her dying husband; American visitors are subjected to European psychotics and oddballs; a one-armed girl compensates with fantasy in Paris. And while many of these intense grotesqueries are effectively, minutely crosshatched (""Inside""--a woman, needless-to-say mad, who stops people to ask why they're staring at her), they also sometimes seem like eccentricity warped into craziness; the labyrinthine paths are too gleeful. Two stories set aboard ships--passenger-carrying freighters--do allow for some physical space around Leffland's tortured characters; and though they aren't the most concentrated or the most accomplished of her stories, they're certainly the most attractive, airy and observant. All in all: a mixed bag from a clearly talented writer whose light by candle-in-skull is often too murky--too much grim darkness for its own sake.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row