Several of the stories have as their common setting Miss Stafford's fiction town of Adams, Colorado—including an amusing saga of a girl's frustrated attempts to find a quiet spot to read ("A Reading Problem"), and two stories of failure ("In the Zoo") and success ("The Liberation") in the effort to escape from one's family. "Caveat Emptor" is a satire on the academic life and sub-life at the Alma Hettrick College for Girls; and in "The Captain's Gift" the sheltered and lavender-scented existence of old Mrs. Ramsey is violated by the reality of war.
The major piece in Bad Characters is "A Winter's Tale," a haunting and evocative novella set in Heidelberg just before the outbreak of the war. It is dominated by the diabolic character of Frau Professor Persis Galt. This portrait of a former Bostonian who poses as an excessively devout convert is one of Miss Stafford's most brilliant fictional creations.
This collection by Jean Stafford will be warmly welcomed by the many and devoted admirers of her novels and stories. To new readers the work of one of the best writers of our time will come as a joyful discovery.
The stories in this book vary in mood from the title piece, a satirical examination of avant-garde intellectual life in New York through the eyes of a self-styled "rube," to the quietly affecting novella "The Home Front," about a German doctor in an American defense plant town. The backgrounds of the stories are equally varied: one is set in the Virgin Islands, two in Germany, one in Oklahoma and one in Maine, and one - "The Interior Castle" - in the featureless ether-smelling world of a hospital where the heroine is recovering after a near-fatal accident. The central figure of one story is a fat girl who imagines herself to be twins and who cannot stop eating; in another we meet Jim Littlefield, an orphan Indian boy of 8, who has "come on the train barefoot all the way from Missouri." In "The Bleeding Heart" appears an invalid old lady whose speech has lost its verbs ("I her!" she cries), while her parrot, aged 48, has lost all speech, but the eternally reiterated, "Just a minute."
The versatile forms of these stories - ranging from satire to interior monologues, from pathos to grotesquerie - are carried out in a style so consistently controlled, so full of imaginative power and so alive to nuance both verbal and pictorial, that the collection takes on a compelliing unity in its very diversity, and will add to the already impressive reputation Miss Stafford's three novels have won her