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BOOKSHELF

SHORT STORIES FROM THE NEW YORKER. New York: Simon and Schuster. 438 pp. $3.

By M. C.

ONE FEELS always a pardonable reluctance to agree with a publisher's blurb; but it is impossible to deny the truth of the dust jacket's statement that the New Yorker publishes the best prose fiction in America and that a splendid sampling of that fiction has been brought together to make this book. A warning, at this point: the New Yorker's prose style, a unique melancholy compounded out of many samples over a period of not quite sixteen years, is not very much in evidence in this collection. The witty, nostalgic, acid manner of the "Talk of the Town" hovers vaguely behind a few of the stories, but only a few. And there are no more than three stories that can be called funny.

What, then, are the stories? They are ominous, crucl, sad--the sinister adjectives accumulate, perhaps because they are already in the mind. Leonard Ross' Hyman Kaplan story is humorous, of course, and so are the Arthur Kober and Donald Moffat and Richard Lockridge stories. But far more typical are the bitter Jerome Weidman pieces, Irwin Shaw's savage "Sailor off the Bremen" and the incredibly sinister "Wet Saturday" of John Collier. One explanation--perhaps minor, but none the less interesting--suggests itself: the collection represents fifteen and a half years, in that some of the stories actually go back to 1925; but the bulk of the material was published between 1934 or '35 and 1940. The second world war is in several of the stories, and touches many more. This is literature of the generation born a little too late to be lost.

If, at this reading, James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" seems the best of an excellent field, it may not be necessary to defend the choice. The little man, now the indomitable sea dog, Captain Mitty, now the great surgeon, and overshoes, but even in the moment of defeat and annihilation "the inscrutable Walter Mitty"-- he may remain for us the symbol of our age, with his two-for-a-cent dream life manufactured by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and his real life a complex of frustration. There is space only to mention Irwin Shaw's three stories, Christopher Isherwood's extraordinary "I Am Waiting" and Mark Schorer's un-Jamesian "Portrait of Ladies."

It is safe to say that this is easily the best one-volume collection of short stories available.

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