In a uniquely expressive and sensuous response to life's enduring ambiguities, Byatt, author of the critically praised novel, Still Life (1985), unfolds the ll stories that make up this collection. The tales are long, for the most part, and intricately constructed, requiring a reader's full attention. In ``Precipice-Encurled'' there are intriguing glimpses of poet Robert Browning, now a widower, grappling with self-doubt in an Italian retreat, while a family to whom he is to be an honored visitor experiences a death. Mortality is the leitmotif of the title story as the death of her father in an Amsterdam hospital allows a daughter to examine with new understanding some of the family relationships. Menace is palpable in ``In the Air'' when a lonely dog walker nearly lives out her prophecy of disaster. In other stories, questions of eternity, of near- and after-death experiences, of desiring the unobtainable form a matrix of complex narrations rich in cultural allusions. For judicious readers, the literary overtones of a probing writer will provide considerable pleasure. (June 30)
Byatt's formidable intellect and fine sensibility illuminate this varied collection. The title story is dense with recollection and complexity, an intimate family history saved from sentimentality by the intricacy of its detail. In another story, the penetrable conversational border between the living and the dead is as near as ``The Next Room.'' ``The Dried Witch'' is an immersion in primitive magic, immediate and total; ``The July Ghost,'' a touching chiller. Byatt's interest in the interplay between life and art, memory and creation, the ``true moment'' and the ``storied event'' finds expression in such stories about writing as ``The Changeling,'' ``On the Day that E. M. Forster Died,'' and ``Precipice-Encurled.'' Eminently satisfying, for admirers of the excellent Still Life ( LJ 11/15/85). Mary Soete, San Diego P.L., Cal.