Karen Karbo
October 06, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In a lesser writer’s hands, the protagonists in Mary Gordon’s impeccable Stories collection — mostly average women trying to make the best of their disappointing lots — would be forgettable, if not maudlin. Instead, these characters are splendid in their ridiculous humanity. They over-compensate for shameful childhoods (”City Life”), march stoically through their comfortless dotage (”Death in Naples”), and are duped by their good intentions (”The Baby”). Gordon’s new stories are deeper and more relaxed, but all provide a mesmeric read you’ll want to inhale and savor at the same time.

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