The collected short fiction of the master prose stylist Shirley Hazzard. Taken together, these twenty-eight short stories range from quotidian struggles between beauty and pragmatism to satirical send-ups of international bureaucracy, from the Italian countryside to suburban Connecticut. Hazzard's heroes are high-minded romantics attempting to fit their feelings into the twentieth-century world of office jobs and dreary marriages. The comedy, the tragedy, and the splendor of love, the pursuit and the absence of it, animates Hazzard's stories and provides the truth and beauty that her protagonists seek.
Shirley Hazzard is a perfectionist’s writer. Her books, composed of dense, layered sentences, are like the sort of difficult, delicate cakes no one bothers to make anymore. They’re slender yet solid, consummate, as fascinated and affected by the mysteries of experience as they are self-assured ... Where contemporary aphorists call on the reader to fill in the gaps of their fragmented narratives, often visually represented as white space, Hazzard manages to traverse incredible spans of time and emotion from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph while fastidiously ensuring everything the reader needs to understand is there ... Her writing requires the sort of sustained attention she believed art deserved, but her relationship with her reader is always reciprocal: she doesn’t create mystery but reveals its vital place in life ... Her narratives are structured as inevitabilities in a way that heightens the role and significance of the writer without overstating it; events are heavily foreshadowed, and history, particularly the World Wars, is always refracting the present and future. At the same time, one of her strengths is the way she makes the random occurrences that appear throughout her work—sudden deaths, strange illnesses, the heartbreak of unplanned romance on the eve of a planned departure—truly stunning, the way they would be in life ... Like love, great art always seems to contain some portion of inexplicability, but the argument Hazzard developed throughout her career was, in fact, empoweringly rational: it’s only in the telling that chance becomes fate. In the telling, it is obvious,' the narrator of The Bay of Noon says. 'In the telling, all things are.'
Hazzard’s stories are shrewd, formal and epigrammatic. One feels smarter and more pulled together after reading them. You drop into one as if you were a wet cell phone and it were a jar of uncooked rice ... a single important and elegant volume ... These are about condescending, pitilessly detached men and the trapped women who love them — and they’re simply brutal ... Hazzard’s stories feel timeless because she understands, as she writes in one of them: 'We are human beings, not rational ones.'
Often by portraying its absence, these stories assert the importance of true connection, in the elegant, scalpel-sharp prose for which Hazzard has been admired since her earliest work. Devoted fans may feel a little cheated – only two of the stories here are truly 'new', discovered in typescript among her papers after her death – but the collection offers a fine introduction to a remarkable writer who deserves to go on finding new readers.