Collected Stories includes both volumes of the National Book Award–winning author Shirley Hazzard’s short-story collections—Cliffs of Fall and People in Glass Houses—alongside uncollected works and two previously unpublished stories
Shirley Hazzard's Collected Stories is a work of staggering breadth and accomplishment. Taken together, these twenty-eight short stories are masterworks in telescoping focus, ranging from quotidian struggles between beauty and pragmatism to satirical send-ups of international bureaucracy, from the Italian countryside to suburban Connecticut. Hazzard's heroes are high-minded romantics who attempt to fit their feelings into the twentieth-century world of office jobs and dreary marriages. After all, as she writes in "The Picnic," "It was tempting to confine oneself to what one could cope with. And one couldn't cope with love." And yet it is the comedy, the tragedy, and the splendor of love, the pursuit and the absence of it, that animates Hazzard's stories and provides the truth and beauty that her protagonists seek.
Hazzard once said, "The idea that somebody has expressed something, in a supreme way, that it can be expressed; this is, I think, an enormous feature of literature." Her stories themselves are a supreme evocation of writing at its very best: probing, uncompromising, and deeply felt.
The early work of late Australian writer Hazzard (1931 2016), winner of the National Book Award for The Great Fire, makes for an outmoded collection, propelled by themes of mid-century bourgeois disillusionment affairs, arguments, disappointing relationships, time spent at country houses, and trips to Europe. Despite the heavy emotional atmosphere, Hazzard's prose has the restraint and polish of glossy magazine writing, offering crisp, easy descriptions of her desperate characters. Unfortunately, the stories never quite achieve the depth they seemingly aim for, especially in those about the staff of an international peacekeeping organization from People in Glass Houses (1967). Mildly irreverent depictions of petty pensioned bureaucrats like Achilles Pylos, who seeks to replace his plain-looking secretary for a more charming one in "The Story of Miss Sadie Graine" may have caused a stir when originally published, but they aren't sharp enough to resonate in an era where unsatisfactory working conditions are standard fare. Meanwhile, "Vittorio," about a wizened Italian professor who discovers his female tenant might return his romantic interest, ends with a thudding banality: "He could scarcely breathe, from the stairs and from astonishment. He had never been so astonished in his life." These stories feel like quaint antiques from a bygone time.