- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reprint edition (December 3, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375727590
- ISBN-13: 978-0375727597
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,526,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Piranha to Scurfy: And Other Stories Paperback – December 3, 2002
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These short fictions showcase Ruth Rendell's many gifts, among them the ability to evoke a mood and trap a reader in the deepest recesses of a character's psyche. The title story (its odd name comes from the volume of the encyclopedia her character uses in venting his spleen at published authors whose work suffers from a lack of precision) draws us into the mind of a lonely man whose inability to please his mother makes him vulnerable to self destruction. "The Wink" and "Walter's Leg," two stories about revenge, demonstrate that it is indeed a meal best eaten cold. "The Professional" is a small gem with an ironic twist, notable for its acute insights into social class and status in England. In these and other pieces in this collection, Rendell's powers of invention and acute psychological insight remind one of the chilling tales she writes as Barbara Vine. But the best is saved for last, "High Mysterious Union," a tale that's like the weather in Rendell's typical English landscape: sunny at the start but increasingly dark and threatening as the plot thickens. A translator rents a cottage in a village that seems like Lake Wobegon. Everyone is beautiful, strong, and kind, especially the women, who seduce the newcomer with their charms and then abandon him when he fails to see the rightness of their unique, bizarre ways. He gets away with his life, but it will take days before he (and his creator) give you back your own. --Jane Adams --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Multiple Edgar and Gold Dagger award winner Rendell displays her mastery of spine-tingling suspense in her first short story collection since Blood Lines (1996). In the scary title tale, a solitary, arrogant, self-appointed fault-finder is haunted by memories of his dead mother. Although the twist is soon obvious, Rendell adds a dimension that holds the reader to the end. Mythology and fairy tales come to life in "High Mysterious Union," a novella in which a man's increasing obsession with a young woman places him under a spell that almost leads to his death. Irony plays a strong role in most of the nine tales here. In "Walter's Leg," the title character learns that people don't change, even over a lifetime. "The Professional" is about a young man who thinks he witnesses a murder, talks himself out of it, then too late realizes he was right. In "Fair Exchange," a man's doubts about a healer who helps his sick wife are his undoing. Rendell is such a good writer that all these subtle and witty stories succeed, but they are superficial compared to her far more complex and satisfying novels. (Jan. 30) Forecast: Rendell is a fine stylist with an imagination that should appeal to readers of "literary" fiction as well as to mystery fans. Although her novels far outshine these short stories in depth of plot and characterization, this collection could introduce some nongenre readers to her work, especially to the tales of psychological suspense she writes under her own name and as Barbara Vine.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
While Rendell is widely acknowledged as a brilliant mystery writer, she should be so regarded irrespective of genre.
I should say at the beginning that I do not believe, as some seem to do, that Ruth Rendell's work is in any way in decline. Though _The Chimney Sweeper's Boy_ and _Harm Done_ will never rank among my favorite Rendell novels, I don't believe that they are on any different literary level from her books of five or ten years ago, and I freely admit to preferring her most recent work to earlier books like _One Across, Two Down_. I think Rendell's prolificacy leaves her books susceptible to uneven quality. Additionally, her affinity for writing and plotting in several different styles means that many readers will not like all of her books.
The title story, called "Piranha to Scurfy" in the Rendellian tradition of the initially incomprehensible title, is a claustrophobic story of paranoia and obsessive compulsion that reminded me initially of earlier Rendell books like _The Bridesmaid_ and _Talking to Strange Men_ but an important difference soon became apparent; there is a surprisingly funny side to "Piranha to Scurfy." The protagonist is so unattractive, so irritating, that it is nearly impossible for the reader to feel empathy for him. "Piranha to Scurfy" does not force the reader to align herself with the protagonist/murderer in this story as she has in some of her other work; the dramatic depth of this story is therefore less than in a book like _Live Flesh_ but judged on its own merits and as a story which is intended to be humorous, "Piranha to Scurfy" succeeds.
Of the shorter stories, "Catamount" was an enjoyable story that illustrated something that every horror movie viewer knows to be true: just because you know what's going to happen doesn't mean it won't scare the bejesus out of you when it does. "Walter's Leg" was funny, and almost something of a tease on Rendell's part; sometimes, she seems to say, nothing really terrible happens. "Fair Exchange" reminded me of some of the occult-inspired short stories of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. "The Professionals" was an interesting portrait of not-quite-cheeky-enough bootblack and a brief case study of class in that bizarre microcosm, the department store.
Some of the stories were less satisfying; "The Wink" was a story about revenge, but not a particularly spectacular or satisfying revenge. "The Astronomical Scarf," reminded me of a 7th grade essay written from the point of view of Ben Franklin's pocket watch and seemed to get bogged down occasionally. "The Beach Butler" was well written, the characters quickly and skillfully drawn but seemed to lack resolution.
"High Mysterious Union," the eighty-page novella that finishes the book was a departure from the rest of Piranha to Scurfy, and not just because of its greater length. It doesn't share the humor present in the other stories and the writing is more studied than that in the rest of the book. The narrator and her friend are strangers in a small village, but the villagers are very much outsiders to normal society. The unusual behavior of the villagers and the choices forced upon the outsiders are thought provoking and reminded me of a fleshed-out scenario from a "Book of Questions." What would you do? Why? The story seems to want to know.
Taken as a whole, Piranha to Scurfy is even more engaging than its component stories. Rendell demonstrates her facility for writing from several different viewpoints and in several different styles. Additionally, Piranha to Scurfy shows a sense of humor often absent from Rendell's non-Wexford stories, and the excellent craftsmanship we have come to expect from Rendell's work. Though even longtime Rendell fans may not like every story in the book, this volume contains a selection from which almost anyone should be able to find something they like.
Another reviewer mentioned she wondered if the author was getting back at readers who send her criticisms? That could be.
I like this author's way of ending her stories. Usually they are a surprise and I like that. I gave this only four stars as I am having trouble with the last story.
Rendell has the ability to put people in strange situations and make us feel what they feel: danger, fear, panic, disgust, or just plain unease. Her stories have a sense of justice. We see someone doing something they shouldn't and a part of us wants justice. Rendell knows how to write such a story and make it thoroughly satisfying.
The title story focuses on a young man named Ribbon. Ribbon is well-off, not filthy rich, but well-off. He spends his time reading novels, examining their grammatical and factual inaccuracies, and writing letters to the publishers and authors involved. He's the original literary snob (and a real jerk). But who can blame him? His mother taught him this behavior, after all. Ah, but she's no longer with Ribbon. And when a book by a despised author takes on a life of its own, Ribbon doesn't know where to turn. But it's silly to be harassed by a book...isn't it?
The final story, "High Mysterious Union," is a story that works on many levels. It's a great story, but it also speaks to our society and how we view culture, community, and sex. Ben is a writer who stays in a friend's cottage in a British village to work on a manuscript. Ben becomes obsessed with one of the local girls, a young local girl. Ben's almost old enough to be her father. You might think this is a typical Lolita-type story, but you soon realize that's not it at all. It's an amazing story, one of those that stays with you long after you've finished reading it.