Cosmopolitan tales from Paul Theroux; World's End and Other Stories, by Paul Theroux. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. $9.95.
These stories are like post cards received from some well- traveled and literate friend who takes as much pleasure in relating the odd incident as he does in seeking out the world's odd corners. He gives us snatches of overheard conversation, anecdotes, small intrigues, fables.
Sometimes it's disappointing that the subjects seem to be what anyone might write home about, but they're told with enough flash and dry humor that it's easy to indulge the subject for the sake of the style.
For the most part the stories are not heavy or gloomy, and even some with somber themes are so skillfully told they seem to pass by like a swift, cool wind that gives you a shiver. Most of them are kept buoyant by humor and by a prose style that is often right on the mark.
Such as in story about a hardworking American who moves his family to a district of London where his solid satisfaction dissolves suddenly and unexpectedly: "Most of all, he liked returning home in the rain. The house at World's End was a refuge; he could shut his door on the darkness and smell the straightness of his own rooms."
One story about an English girl staying with a French family, in which the girl's relationship with the father verges on war, is too purposefully meaningful for me. The best tales are those in which the author's presence is not so much felt, the title story, for instance. Theroux is a good storyteller, and even when the stories fall short of originality or special impact, they are entertaining, which is no small reward.