Paris Stories, Mavis Gallant, 2002

I picked up this book last year after it had sat on my shelf for many years when I read of Gallant’s death in Paris in February, 2014 at the age of 91.  A Canadian, abandoned by her mother after her father’s early death, she moved to Paris at the age of 28 after working as a journalist in Montreal and began a writing career that resulted in 100 stories published in The New Yorker, but never achieved fame and fortune.  After an early failed marriage, she turned away from family life and devoted herself to her craft.  These stories, published in The New York Review of Books series, are jewels, not so tiny in many cases running to 40-50 pages and containing large enough worlds to be called novellas.  Her characters are the focus with a lack of action or arc in most of the stories but finely honed descriptions of people and their relationships, especially artists.  Michael Ondaatje’s introduction is entitled, A Handful of Small Shipwrecks, a line from the final story Scarves, Beads, and Sandals about an aging artist Schurz, and this is a fine epigram for these stories of ordinary people caught in the turbulent world of defeats and disappointments.  A good collection, but heavy going all at one time. This is a good book to be read in small bites, one story at a time, a technique that the author herself recommends in an afterword.