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Short Stories With a Romantic Touch


By Maeve Binchy

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Delacorte Press

214pp., $16.95

You've brushed your teeth and climbed into bed, and now comes the big decision: What to read before drifting off to sleep? If brevity is key, Irish author Maeve Binchy's latest collection makes the choice a little easier.

"The Return Journey" is full of short stories - bite-size reads, really - none of which tops 20 pages. These European-flavored tales all feature a trip of some kind. And, as always with Binchy, there are plenty of relationships (she is, after all, crafter of well-peopled novels like "Circle of Friends" and last year's "Evening Class"). Mothers, daughters, friends, lovers. They're all here.

The best story of the bunch, "Package Tour," is also one of the shortest. In 10 pages, newly acquainted Irish "soul mates" Shane and Moya make elaborate plans for a vacation and then watch them unravel as they discover the one thing they don't have in common: He packs heavy, she packs light.

Binchy explores issues and temptations everyday people face, offering ironic, sometimes predictable, outcomes. In "The Home Sitter," an attractive housesitter changes the life of an unhappy wife - not by stealing her husband, as she expects, but by charming her family and neighbors in a way she can never duplicate. Among the sweeter entries is "Miss Vogel's Vacation," where a New York woman's first vacation comes late in life and takes her no farther than the Big Apple's city limits.

Binchy's stories are light, pleasant reads for the most part. They do, though, have a sense of sameness, as many deal with romance. But the author makes sure she offers a variety of situations for her characters - business trips, society weddings, cruises, affairs that are not meant to be. And in the end, her brief tales include worthwhile messages: Marry for love; narrow-mindedness is unattractive; and it's never too late to have an adventure.

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* Kim Campbell is on the Monitor staff.

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