Rhonda Johnson
November 17, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Means of Escape

Current Status
In Season
Penelope Fitzgerald
Houghton Mifflin
Short Stories, Fiction

We gave it an A

Penelope Fitzgerald’s posthumous — and only — story collection, The Means of Escape, serves as an elegiac gift to dedicated fans of her award-winning novels (The Blue Flower) and a tantalizing introduction for new readers. Throughout the eight brief, haunting tales, unwelcome visitors disturb or threaten settled lives. In the title piece, set in Tasmania in 1852, an escaped convict’s encounter with a parson’s daughter spurs her own dreams of flight. In ”Beehernz,” a concert producer visiting an aged conductor’s remote Scottish home finds the old man quite different from what he expected. Exquisitely detailed writing coupled with a deep sympathy for odd behavior transforms a drab office episode into a chilling ghost story (”The Axe”) and a glimpse of New Zealand pioneer hardships (”At Hiruharama”) into a comedy of manners. Fitzgerald’s final book sparkles with her trademark appreciation of life’s fine absurdities. A

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