I can’t very well review all the stories in this collection as it’s a retrospective collective 4o years after the death of a not entirely well-known writer and covers 40 years itself. Oh and there’s 30 stories in it.
Of the 30 stories, most seem primed for publication in that they are roughly ten pages long each and have a solidly cohesive and straightforward narrative, if not straightforward characters. Taylor’s writing is trim and funny and hides in subtleties, but like the four novels of hers I have read, she’s not out to do anything experimental in form.
The best of these stories deal in writing, reading, and cats. My introduction to Taylor and her career is the story “The Letter Writers” about a woman who spent years writing to her favorite author and his responding back forming a kind of virtual connection finally getting a chance to meet when they’re in the same country and how everything seems wrong. Even though it was written in the 1950s, the distance between the two and their intimate, but not face to face, connection had a very familiar feel to me in the age of email and online dating.
Other stories I really enjoyed involved a girl who read to escape the annoyances around her, throwing off various titles as she went.
And of course any story that involves a cat is perfectly charming and perfectly rendered. Elizabeth Taylor knows cats, and it turns out that they haven’t changed much. And unlike other writers of her time, dealing with the different cultural landscape of the 20th century, she gives understanding race, racial tension, and failing liberalism a go in the later stories.
Here’s a selection: “Sitting outside on the sill, the cat watched Melanie through the window. The shallow arc between the tips of his ears, his baleful stare, and his hunched-up body blown feathery by the wind, gave him the look of a barn-owl. Sometimes, a strong gust nearly knocked him off balance and bent his whiskers crooked. Catching Melanie’s eyes, he opened his mouth wide in his furious, striped face, showed his fangs and let out a piteous mew instead of a roar.”