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Across the Bridge (1993)
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The first four of the eleven stories in this book are connected, following the fortunes of the Carette family. In "1933" their widowed mother teaches Berthe and Marie to conceal the fact that she was a seamstress, and to say instead that she was "clever with her hands." In "The Chosen Husband" the luckless suitor, Louis, has to undergo the front-parlor scrutiny of Marie's mother and sister: "But then Louis began to cough and had to cover his mouth. He was in trouble with a caramel. The Carettes looked away, so that he could strangle unobserved. 'How dark it is, ' said Berthe, to let him think that he could not be seen." Almost all of the other stories take place in the Paris Mavis Gallant knows so well. "Across the Bridge," the title story, begins with the narrator's mother throwing her reluctant daughter's wedding invitations into the Seine. "I watched the envelopes fall in a slow shower and land on the dark water and float apart. Strangers leaned on the parapet and stared, too, but nobody spoke." A master of contemporary prose - elegant, concise, finely textured - Mavis Gallant never relaxes the tension between detachment and compassion, understanding and mystery, memory and truth. She constantly surprises the reader with her quicksilver perceptions of the moments when people's illusions are revealed and their lives change irrevocably as they form new, necessary illusions. With irony and an unfailing eye for the telling detail, she weaves stories of such intricate simplicity and spare complexity that critics have rightly compared her with Henry James and Anton Chekhov. Across the Bridge is a vintage collection by one of the best short-story writers in the world.
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