Picks and Pans Review: Saratoga, Hot

updated 08/05/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1985 01:00AM

by Hortense Calisher

The author, who has an impressive literary reputation, believes that the eight stories in this volume "seem to try for more than the short moments of a life. They try for the life." In the title story Calisher succeeds most strikingly. A couple named Tot and Nola are in Saratoga, N.Y. for the racing season. Tot's relatives are rich, and so he belongs. He is a steward at the track and writes articles about racing; Nola is an artist who refuses to exhibit any of her work. Calisher makes it all a lively, surreal round of parties, odd characters, elaborate clothes, old rituals, private clubs and love affairs. She gives a brilliant picture of a place and time. The other stories reflect a similar sensitivity. "Gargantua" is a tender story about a young woman who visits her mother in a hospital and tries to understand the hatred she feels for the older woman. "Survival Techniques" is a ripe evocation of lives in New York marked by details of hydrants, beggars, elevators and a shrinking world. Calisher is a careful, self-conscious craftsman; her stories move jerkily, in fits and starts. But it's worth the whole book to find a sentence like this one: "The wild moments of serious people are the ones to watch, and women, once you get past the egret feathers of their brains, are most serious." (Double-day, $16.95)

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