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Rich 'little novels'; Vanishing Animals and Other Stories, by Mary Morris. Boston: David R. Godine.

The stuff of short stories is essentially the stuff of novels, the difference being that the writer of stories must compress life and use a kind of emotional shorthand -- just as the poet does. Some of us think the short story is the ultimate form, requiring all a writer's skill and the steadiest hand imaginable. That is probably why, when they are done well, stories are unmatched as true reflections of the way we are.

Mary Morris, only 32 years old, has abundant skill and the steady hand. In this collection of 12 stories she shows a wonderfully mature control and a vision that is remarkably wide-ranging in a form that most often concentrates on isolated moments. At the same time her stories are so rich they are almost little novels.

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Most of the stories here are about relationships that are, in one way or another, aborted just as they are about to satisfy: "When we reached home we thought of becoming lovers again but the doorbell rang." They are about parents and children, missed opportunities, love gone awry or sour, violence barely under control.

Miss Morris knows her places from the outside in and from the inside out. "On Borrowed Time" is a story about the strange quality of life in a Manhattan brown- stone: "A tribe lives in the walls; their messages tapped in code reveal secrets. A cult of darkness. My radiator sounds like somebody's crying. Lately it's been imitating the buzzer, so when the heat goes on at five in the morning I rush to answer the door."

Anchored as Miss Morris's stories are in the real world, they also take off from time to time into darker worlds, recognizable but obviously created in the back recesses of the imagination. Thus, reality and fantasy sit side by side in many of these stories -- but always absolutely controlled by the author.

There is a richness and range in these stories that suggest Miss Morris may some day write a very good novel. "Foolish Pleasure," for example, covers two urban love affairs over several months in two places; a wonderful story.

While no one could call Miss Morris's vision especially optimistic, neither do her characters seem to be at dead ends. This is a powerful and appealing book and congratulations are due her publisher for taking on what is generally considered to be a publishing risk: the short stories of an unknown writer.


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