The Madonna of the Pool by Helen Stancey (short stories)

Writing: 5/5 Plot: 3.5/5 Characters: 4/5

A very pleasant surprise! Not being a huge short story reader, I kept meaning to put the book down but instead kept reading “just one more story” until the book was finished in a day.

Stancey is a master of the English language. Hers is the kind of writing I love — spare, incisive, prose that captures the essence of the scene. Compared to the book I last reviewed, with its run on streams of consciousness, this was like entering a lovely, clean, room — full of curiosities and yet completely clutter-free.

These stories crawl around in people’s heads. Men, women, boys, girls, city-dwellers, country folk. Primarily in Britain but with at least one story of British vacationers abroad. We observe ways of life and death; growing up and growing old; contemplating mortality. These stories encompass everything a short story should be: a deep dip into another place and time, with a message or a twist. Little pieces of life – no great drama, people getting on with it in their own ways.

Some great first lines — my favorite: “Ostensibly it began with the dust mites.” Also some great last paragraphs (which I won’t include as they kind of give away the story!) Intriguing titles as well e.g. “You can’t rely on Pythagoras”.

Some other favorite lines:

“She always felt ambivalent about this. Here was where the demands of intellectual integrity were face-to-face to the demands of social cohesion.”

“Joan cut the cake, manipulating the size of the slices to avoid bisecting any dwarf.”

Looking forward to more from this author!

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