THE STORIES OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV
The collected short fiction of the great Russian-born writer (1899--1977) who became a master of fiction in three languages and whose imposingly irascible presence on the 20th-century literary scene has perhaps obscured full recognition of his genius as symbolist, savant, and storyteller. There's little here that can be called apprentice work, even among the earliest of this rich volume's 65 stories, a gathering that ranges from the early 1920s through mid-1950s and assembles the contents of four previously published volumes plus 13 uncollected stories. Literary influences are only intermittently blatant (e.g., in the Chekhovian "Christmas" and Gogolian "Razor," and in "Bachmann," a disturbingly enigmatic account of a thwarted romance that reads like an early Thomas Mann story). Fantasy and supernaturalism are strongly present in such accomplished and eerie pieces as "Lik," "Tyrants Destroyed," and "The Vane Sisters," the latter being perhaps the most archly self-indulgent ghost story ever written. What may surprise many readers is the relative scarcity of tales in which Nabokov's notoriously Olympian sensibility is clearly revealed. Only in the icy "A Dashing Fellow" (whose lustful protagonist withholds from his conquest the news of her father's death) and the equally mordant "Details of a Sunset" do we feel a judgmental or condescending authorial presence. The many stories dealing with Russian emigres in Europe seeking aesthetic and romantic fulfillment, include several of Nabokov's most affecting: "The Fight," "A Guide to Berlin," and "A Russian Beauty" are prominent examples. Best of all, there's "The Potato Elf," a weird, troubling story of a fatal love triangle featuring preternaturally vivid characters and replete with ingenious sexual symbolism. The products of an incomparably rich imagination, these 65 wonders comprise a virtual education in how fiction--well, ought to be written. An indispensable book.