January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

by Mavis Gallant

An unhappy young American in Paris deludes herself into believing her impending marriage—to a painfully dull and unromantic man—will miraculously transform the shabby French city she’s experiencing into the idyllic City of Light. In a different section of Paris, a publisher of little-read Eastern European writers feigns nobility as he struggles to pay his electric bill. For the characters in Montreal-born Gallant’s fiction, such forms of protective self-deception are as essential to existence as air and water.

For this dazzling collection, Gallant, now 74 and living in Paris, hand-picked 52 stories dating from the 1930s to last year. The gifted author has said she’s not interested in “the grand sweep of history,” but rather in “the small things—what people are wearing, what they are eating, the price of things, the accents of tourists on the beaches.” She captures nuances, brilliantly, yet gives readers much more than mere surfaces. Gallant’s stories are shifting blends of the dark and the comic—each a precise, almost clinical, exploration of the joy, fear, hope and indifference that fill her characters’ souls. (Random House, $45)

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