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Eight stylish but uneven stories by the author of A Lesson in Love--with Creal's talent for dialogue and quickly involving characterization often undermined by her tendency to belabor some rather thin themes. In the longest piece, for instance, ""A Town Without a Graveyard,"" a young married woman in a Los Alamos-like, history-less company town is visited by her garrulous Southern mother--who manages to find old friends and old secrets even here, making ""her usual cosy circle out of Augusta's brave new world""; but Creal overextends this bright, slight notion, especially with a lumbering restatement at the close. (""They exchanged a look, for the first time not as mother and daughter but as women, and Augusta found herself drawn willy-nilly out of her world of the future into a world that had existed forever, a world to which Desert Gap had from the start belonged. She was aware that she would always know, as she knew now, that wherever she went, to an ancient town or a new one, she would find that the past had been there ahead of her, leaving its secrets behind."") Similarly flattened are sketches of edgy love-relationships--one chic and adulterous, the other tender and lesbian. Even two of the strongest stories, both involving mother/son love, suffer somewhat from overexplanatory windups: ""Tales from a Pensione"" is skillful and affecting--a mother expresses her disappointment in her son by telling a seemingly unrelated story--until the device is too deliberately spelled out; in the brief ""Inland Beach,"" a harrowing evocation of a near-drowning is dampened by some greeting-card sentimentality. And Creal seems most effective in the pieces that are allowed to speak for themselves: ""At Sunnyside Villa,"" in which an old woman dies in a pleasant nursing-home--attended by loving children and a quietly cruel room-mate; ""Prairie Spring,"" a mildly feminist parable of a long-overdue mother/daughter reunion (the father's selfishness kept them apart); and the title story--an arch yet endearing fable about a Saskatchewan minister who loses his faith. . . and gains a celebrated career as a writer of (strangely successful) custom-made prayers. Usually more engaging at the start than satisfying at the end, then--but smooth, polished work overall, with more variety than you'll find in most short-story collections.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row