ONE THING LEADING TO ANOTHER And Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner
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Twenty dazzling stories, not previously collected (some hitherto unpublished), by the late English author--whose laser-beam tracing of human fidgetings is as clean-limbed and lyrical as ever here. In the title story, a stolid middle-aged housekeeper for priests, appropriately dutiful and respectable, has a bit of a lapse when snuff instead of curry powder is put in a priestly repast: the priests lap it down with hearty offhand compliments; this tiny jolt seems to lead to other rents in the fabric of custom; and the housekeeper is soon ""levitated"" to actions causing acute clerical discomfort. Several tales feature Mr. Edom of the decorous Abbey Antique Galleries, where acquisitions and thoughtful bestowals are tuned to his ""discretion and probity"": a huge wooden representation of a ""lady in ecstasy,"" filched from a local Catholic Church, threatens to sound a ""false note like disproportioned sin"" in Gallery harmony; enameled bronze cats bring on a crossfire of mercurial trading; and a dinner service leads to a single-minded customer's pursuit (in vain) of Elysium. Another group--Warner at her most hilarious--centers on the family of housewife Elinor Finch, who, although appearing ""inconsequential, had a remarkably purposeful sub-conscious""; among Elinor's fancies are a cock-eyed picnic tableau, a boozy speech before a church Mothers Club, and a vision of murdering Teddy Bears, ""their eyes. . . bright with innocent vice."" Elsewhere, elderly women reach for wisps of a dead past; a chaotic marriage pops to the sound of black-comic gunfire; a mute WW II refugee breaks through into the loud language of death; a dull-witted London teenager harbors a poltergeist. And four of Warner's ""Elfin"" stories round off the collection--following those conscienceless, wing-èd elite of three kingdoms as they are sidetracked or demolished through unwise associations with the soggy muddle of offensive human actions. An unexpected and marvelously welcome encore--from a much-missed master of whimsical, comic, delicately wise short fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking