Picks and Pans Review: The Stranger at the Palazzo D'oro and Other Stories

updated 02/09/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

SHORT STORIES

by Paul Theroux

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The men and boys who populate this collection are a desperate bunch, driven by libidinous desires. An aimless young man prostitutes himself to a countess, a boy suffers a crisis of faith while ogling a girl during mass, a lonely retiree stalks his two maids to Las Vegas. It sounds like melodrama, but Theroux has a light touch. In "Scouting for Boys," a standout, the smutty banter between prepubescent pals is hilarious, though the revelation that a priest has sexually abused one of them is anything but. In each story Theroux's prose is shot through with gentle melancholy, evoking the complexities of matters of the heart with subtlety and grace.

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