More Collected Stories
In some circles, the publication of V. S. Pritchett’s Collected Stories was the literary event of 1982. More Collected Stories is a sequel, gathering two dozen tales from seven previously published collections, from You Make Your Own Life (1938) to On the Edge of the Cliff (1979). There is, therefore, nothing new in this collection, nor can it be regarded as a comprehensive retrospective selection, for it excludes (as did Collected Stories) any representatives of Pritchett’s early work. One hesitates to suggest that commercial motives rather than artistic ones dictated the compilation of More Collected Stories, especially as such books are rarely paying propositions these days, but there is at the very least a feeling of anticlimax with this publication. Much in More Collected Stories represents Pritchett at his best, but there is also a considerable proportion that can only be called Pritchett at his second best. Granted, Pritchett at second best is still very good, but the collection as a whole is a trifle disappointing.
Pritchett is so accomplished a craftsman that it is impossible for him to write a bad story, but some of the ones included here are slight in substance, however accomplished technically they may be. “The Evils of Spain,” for example, presents a group of friends gathered at a restaurant in Madrid shortly before the Civil War. They can agree on nothing and hence shout conflicting orders to the long-suffering waiter, who in exasperation finally serves them what he chooses. Through all of this, one of their number tells a disconnected story about a near drowning, followed by an anecdote concerning a hotel fire and a beautiful Mexican woman. It is all very lively and vivid, but the characters never become more than disembodied voices, and the relation of the anecdotes to the frame story is obscure at best. The intent of the piece is expressed by its title, and “The Evils of Spain” are symbolized by the anarchy of the diners who must finally be dictated to by the waiter. It may or may not be an accurate diagnosis of Spain’s ills before the war, but as a story it entertains more than enlightens.
Similar in structure and dating from roughly the same period (the 1930’s) is “The dipus Complex,” an amusing and original character sketch of an eccentric dentist who maintains a steady flow of jokes and anecdotes while working on his patients. One of these is an account of how he lost his first wife and then literally stole his second wife from his father, who was about to marry a much younger woman. Clever as it is, this story skims only lightly over its material. “A Story of Don Juan” is probably Pritchett’s only ghost story. It demonstrates the author’s talent for invention, but unfortunately this tale of supernatural cuckolding does not quite succeed.
In spite of some weak inclusions, however, More Collected Stories succeeds in the end because Pritchett is a storyteller of rare gifts and powers. From a cast of outwardly nondescript characters, he fashions a composite portrait of modern life. Among his creations are a bureaucrat who works in “liaison” but who can make no genuine connections with people in his personal life; an interior decorator who is not a nest builder but a home wrecker; a window cleaner whose wife is revealed as a...
(The entire section is 1383 words.)