FROM ALTAR TO CHIMNEY-PIECE by Mary Butts

FROM ALTAR TO CHIMNEY-PIECE

Selected Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first US publication of the selected stories of late British writer Butts (The Taverner Novels, 1992), whose claim to exhumation seems based more on the author having had pals like Hemingway than any discernible literary merit.

Set mostly in Paris and England, these pieces, written in Butts's characteristically elliptical style, are preoccupied with good and evil--not the traditional dichotomy but rather the tensions between the old (i.e., good) ways and the new (i.e., bad), and between malevolent and benign spirits. Born in 1890, Butts belonged to that generation irrevocably shaped by WW I; and though the war itself is never a subject, it hovers--like so many of the supernatural presences the author evokes--in several of these stories. In the title piece, the middle-aged protagonist, Vincent, a man who ``since the War had never achieved full life again,'' comes to Paris to recover but falls in love with a corrupt young American woman; and the beautiful woman in ``A Lover'' is seduced by a man who claims to have been destroyed by his terrible wartime experiences. Stories like ``With and Without Buttons,'' ``The Houseparty,'' and ``Mappa Mundi'' describe the macabre encounters with evil strong enough to injure (physically), corrupt, and seduce, respectively. In perhaps her two most accomplished stories, Butts skillfully describes the reverberating consequences of an accidental meeting of two antagonists (``The Warning'') and the attempt of a jealous mother to sue a family friend to break up her son's marriage (``The Green'').

Not without the occasional memorable phrase or insight, but for the most part thin, snobbish, and dated stuff. A doubtful recovery.

Pub Date: July 6th, 1992
ISBN: 0-929701-19-4
Page count: 295pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992




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