These are not Conrad's most famous stories: Until I read the book, I had not heard of any of them. Nonetheless, this is one author whose worst work is better than most others' best. On a recent plane trip to Seattle, I found two of the four stories merely diverting, and the other two equal to his best. "The Partner" is a grim tale of human weakness spiralling down to a predictable horror; whereas his humorously baroque "The Inn of the Two Witches" reminds me in its tone of Washington Irving in LEGENDS OF THE ALHAMBRA, though set in a later time period. What happens when you fall so deeply in love so fast that you can't act to save your life? Conrad gives his answer in "The Planter of Malata," in which a successful loner named Renouard confronts the yawning vastness of an empty life. Felicia Moorsom is a bit two-dimensional and a prim and proper Victorian to the nth degree. This tale is a psychological thriller that does not let you breathe until the last line. The final tale -- "Because of the Dollars" -- is my favorite. It reminds me of ALMAYER'S FOLLY and OUTPOST OF THE ISLANDS with its shallow-draft vessels penetrating into the heart of remote islands. Captain Davidson is a classic Conrad hero caught in a trap: How he manages to escape it at the cost of a wife who doesn't love him and, by the way, his ability to smile is one of the author's most perfectly taut stories. It is amusing to read Conrad's preface to the stories: He seems to be wincing excessively in response to early criticism after circulating the stories to his friends. Needless to say, his friends were over-critical: WITHIN THE TIDES struck me as a treasure that I had somehow overlooked all these years.
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