Picks and Pans Review: The Burning House

updated 11/22/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/22/1982 01:00AM

by Ann Beattie

Somber, wry and full of delicately wrenching moments, these 16 short stories by the author of the novels Chilly Scenes of Winter and Falling in Place axe models of gracefully spare prose. They are about women falling in or out of love, facing abortion, pregnancy or divorce, trying to make sense of subtly devastating turns in their lives. Her male characters sometimes seem like props—"Men think they're Spider-Man and Buck Rogers and Superman," one says—and there is a notable scarcity of dramatic events—no catastrophes, no sex, no violence, no tantrums. Still, Beattie's characters and stories manage to seethe with barely restrained sensation, hopes, poetry. And her writing is lovely. Says one woman, of her lover's hand, "Disembodied, that hand would be a symbol from Magritte: a castle on a rock, floating over the ocean; a green apple without a tree. Alone, I'd know it anywhere." (Random House, $12.95)

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