October 07, 1985 12:00 PM

by Frank Conroy

In this collection of eight masterly short stories, at least one, the title story, may well be unforgettable. In “Midair,” a small boy and his sister are taken from school by their father, a man the little boy doesn’t quite remember. The father has escaped from a mental hospital and, when the attendants come for him, tries to leap from the family’s fourth-floor apartment with his son. The child’s memory of that terrifying moment is suppressed until, many years later, a surprising event in an elevator forces it into his consciousness. There is more in this brilliant short story-rich scenes of family life, of loves gone sour, of the special relationship of sons and fathers-than one finds in most novels. In “The Mysterious Case of R,” a psychiatrist tells of one amazing patient-his single “cure.” Another story, “Celestial Events,” is about a man who watches his mother die of cancer; his grief is spilled in a splendidly brutal squash match. The narrator of a surreal tale called “Transit” sees a man in an airport who has “a slightly amphibian appearance.” He imagines, “as one does with interesting looking people,” that he has seen him somewhere before. The reader too may feel that the characters in these stories are people he has actually met before, but now they stand revealed in fresh, intimate ways. The author is a director at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washing ton; this is his second book. (Dutton, $15.95)

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