ONE IS A WANDERER by Francis King


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Twenty-one flawlessly crafted short stories, selected from collections (not previously published in the US) by the British author of such psychosexual chillers as The Needle (1976) and Act of Darkness (1983). However, in addition to tales of tidy terror, there are immaculate, slightly sad, faintly acidic stories about English men and women urgently pressing (or bumping politely) against the barriers of culture and history in Japan. (Other settings--with miniaturist landscapes--are Greece and Italy.) There are victims strewn throughout, of course, either trussed in circumstance and loneliness, or writhing in a veritable iron maiden of malevolence. Among the victims: a man's wife and a child's Mouse, subject to the tender tormenting of a father and daughter (who share the same. . .methods?); the chaotic household surrounding an adolscent boy who hates Mess and neatens up with a bit of cyanide; a young girl gifted with psychic powers who is exploited by her Svengali until the whole world is ""talking in her head""; a Japanese scholar in London whose English lover, by purloining his life's work, opens up a past vista of ""a terrible and prolonged kind of dying."" Among the stories set in Japan: ""A Corner of a Foreign Field,"" an atypically amusing, gentle tribute to an elderly Japanese professor whose Anglophilia is best kept in Japan, untainted by England-as-she-disconcertingly-is; ""Indirect Method,"" in which an Englishwoman's former houseboy and lover subtly now calls the turns; and ""The Festival of the Dead,"" where among floating memorial lights a Japanese teacher sloughs off the assumptions of his English lover within his ancient culture of grief. There is one delicate ghost story; a portrait of a frazzled eccentric--a ruined Lady; and a sour parodic sendup of Hamlet (""absent yourself from your Felicity awhile. . .""). With a parade of haunting, nettled people who seem to be wrapped in their dank prides and bloodthirsty impulses like straitjacketed patients, and a clean, biting style that excites an electric tension, 21 little pleasures about the dour distances between some forlorn, some sadly plucky, and some just-plain-horrid human beings.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1985
Publisher: Little, Brown