Jennifer Reese
April 30, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Little Black Book of Stories

Current Status
In Season
A.S. Byatt

We gave it an A-

In this wintry, supremely elegant collection, Byatt (Possession) peels back the surface of everyday life — and what she reveals may disturb your sleep. In ”The Pink Ribbon,” a genteel old man buys his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife a stuffed Teletubby, then stabs and mangles it late at night. In ”The Thing in the Forest,” two small girls see — or think they see — a giant, malodorous worm while playing in the woods; they never discuss the creature again, but the encounter haunts them throughout their lives. And in the devastasting ”Raw Material,” a writing teacher finds his ideal student in a prim elderly woman who describes old-fashioned washday in violent, sensual, and stunning prose. What little he eventually learns about her life is, like the rest of this chilling volume, beautifully described and decidedly ”not nice.”

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