THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, September 14, 1994 TAG: 9409140043 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL COLUMN: BOOK BREAK TYPE: BOOK REVIEW SOURCE: BY PEGGY DEANS EARLE, SPECIAL TO THE DAILY BREAK LENGTH: Medium: 70 lines
ALISON LURIE must have had a good time writing ``Women and Ghosts'' (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $21.95). The prize-winning author's 10th work of fiction is a slim volume of nine offbeat tales of the occult. And for those who enjoy brief excursions into the Twilight Zone, a good time will be had by y'all. The stories fit right in with the Rod Serling series - or around a campfire.
With Joyce Carol Oates' ``Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque'' also out this year, parallels are sure to be drawn. Never were two like concepts treated so differently; where Oates' visions may have been borne of nightmares or bad acid trips, Lurie's are made-for-TV ghost stories lite.
Although some of the ``Women and Ghosts'' stories are rather predictable, they are told with enough humor (or horror) to satisfy. The standouts surprise with oddball originality. Get ready for ghosts who live in a swimming pool; a woman who, vainly trying to diet, is haunted by grossly obese spooks; a vindictive, attention-seeking piece of furniture; and the man who would be a sheep.
But back to ``The Pool People,'' a truly creepy story. While visiting her grandmother, a 4-year-old girl insists she has two friends living in Granny's swimming pool. Her mother dismisses this as a common case of imaginary playmates. But Granny is rattled when she finds out that the pool people have the same names as the construction workers she had fired the previous summer - both of whom had died recently. Her blood really runs cold upon hearing that the strange wetfellows want the child to find out when Granny's planning her next evening swim.
In ``The Highboy,'' a homely but valuable antique is inherited by Buffy, who has an obnoxious tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Buffy thinks that the great care she takes of the highboy will make it ``happy'' - and so it seems. Until, that is, the testy piece of furniture ``hears'' about a chance to be in a museum, where it will be pampered even more. Moving furniture takes on a new meaning.
``Counting Sheep'' is the bizarre story of Robbie McEwen, a Wordsworth scholar working on a project in the Lake District of England. His eccentric, introverted ways are noticed by Janey Francis, who heads the project and observes Robbie's unusual interest in a sheep he rescued from a ditch. When he disappears mysteriously, she suspects the unimaginable. Looks like Robbie's sheep has a new friend.
Lurie's wicked black humor makes ``In the Shadow'' fun. Celia's rejected suitor dies in an auto accident. But she can't be rid of him that easily. Dwayne's ghost appears to her, but only at certain, inconvenient times - when she gets physically close to other men. In addition to his ethereal image, the bitter spirit has plenty to say to his ex while she's in an amorous clinch.
In ``Another Halloween,'' Marguerite is terrified by a trick-or-treater in a bunny costume. The child looks just like a little girl who died on a Halloween many years ago and for whose death Marguerite feels partly responsible. Every year, the solitary girl shows up, standing behind the other noisy children. While the end is no surprise, this one will give you chills.
Lurie, whose literary career spans more than 30 years, teaches at Cornell University. She has written nonfiction and children's books; and she won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for ``Foreign Affairs,'' her novel about an unmarried professor who finds a strange romance in London.
The stories in ``Women and Ghosts'' are imbued with an airy effortlessness, surely a testament to the author's well-earned confidence. Above all, they provide pure entertainment as they invite readers to sit back, relax . . . and have a good time. MEMO: Peggy Deans Earle is a staff librarian. by CNB