Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Although Berriault’s career had spanned almost four decades and led to the creation of short stories as well as novels, Berriault’s work has never received a great deal of critical attention. Nonetheless, her fiction is generally recognized as powerful, realistic, and unsentimental, often focusing on a crisis situation in which characters are unable to break free from their loneliness and despair. Julia B. Boken, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, compares Berriault’s fiction to that of Russian writers Leo Tolstoy, Fyodyor Dostoyevsky, and Anton Chekov because of her ‘‘probing [of] the human psyche.’’

‘‘The Stone Boy’’ is one of Berriault’s better known and frequently anthologized pieces of short fiction. It first appeared in Mademoiselle in 1957, and eight years later it was included in Berriault’s first collection of short stories, The Mistress, and Other Stories. It was also included in Berriault’s next published collection, The Infinite Passion of Expectations: Twenty-Five Stories, which appeared in 1982. Andre Dubus, himself a noted American short story writer, called this collection ‘‘the best book of short stories by a living American author.’’

Berriault chose to preface The Mistress, and Other Stories with a quote from the writer Jose Ortega y Gasset: ‘‘Every life is more or less a ruin among whose debris we have to discover what the person ought to have been.’’ The stories in the book echo this sense of desolation. As Dorrie Pagones described Berriault’s characters in the Saturday Review: ‘‘No one behaves as he should, and even supposing anyone did, it is quite clear, as the title of one story puts it, that ’All Attempts Will End in Failure.’’’

In discussing young...

(The entire section is 744 words.)