A Tale of Pierrot and Other Stories

George Dennison is best known for his nonfictional work THE LIVES OF CHILDREN, but he is also a gifted writer of fiction. Before admirers of his earlier books take this new volume to the cash register, however, they should be warned that it recycles several previously published pieces-- in some cases retitled for inclusion in this rather deceptively packaged collection.

The first and best story in the book, “On Being a Son: A Story of the Fifties,” opens with the awakening of its young protagonist from dreamful sleep: He feels joy, fear, and “the lingering vivid sense of something delicious, some quality of life.” Some such “quality of life” is what Dennison seems to be trying to capture and communicate in these stories, each of which is made up of a series of sometimes loosely linked sensory events, or moments of feeling, in the lives of lonely brooders, drifters, and dreamers. Dennison regards his characters with gentle compassion, and their environments are often beautifully painted in words. Unfortunately, the characters and their tales are not well developed, and they often seem remote from the reader, inactive, and sterile.

“A Tale of Pierrot,” the title piece, is set in France. As it opens, an old man is reminiscing about his uncle, Minot Larbaud, who on the occasion of a carnival in the early part of the century discovered “the sublime, ridiculous gift that changed his life.” The narrator assures the reader that his...

(The entire section is 411 words.)