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Heroines and sinister moods

A Party for the Girls: Six Stories, by H.E. Bates. New York: New Directions. 224 pp. $19.95. The publisher calls this collection of stories by H.E. Bates a ``revived modern classic.'' One can only hope.

Unlike many characters in contemporary fiction, those of Bates are fully three-dimensional figures (or even four?). They slip into our consciousness, moving in a thoroughly convincing way through mostly sunlit surroundings (usually in a green, springtime England, but sometimes in the very different, acrid tropics). Not that all of them are young. Some are middle-aged, but nearly all are innocent. However, his sunlight can be misleading, shedding deep shadows where something sinister, or even violent, is lurking.

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Two stories from this collection have not been published in this country before. It is difficult to imagine the criterion used to choose the other four out of the 35 or so stories Bates wrote during his lifetime (1905-1974), all of which have been out of print for some time. I miss ``The Watercress Girl,'' which catches another of Bates's moods. A sweet nostalgia, like that of an old English ballad, hangs over the story. On the other hand it includes a meal that rivals Dylan Thomas's Christmas dinner in Wales for its child's-eye-view of munching grown-ups.

Pamela Marsh is a free-lance book reviewer.

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