FICTION : THE BBC STORIES OF COLIN CLEMAK by Colin Clemak (Vantage: $8.95; 97 pp.).
Those of you with a penchant for reading silently aloud will have plenty of opportunity to do so with “The BBC Stories of Colin Clemak.” Originally written for broadcast as part of the BBC’s Short Story Series, they were clearly crafted more for the ear than the eye. Clemak is adept at shifting between diverse voices and settings and establishes well-drawn characters in a few spare sentences. His narrators invite a quick intimacy, with all but one of the tales told in the first person (“Mr. Povey’s Lawn”).
Clemak speaks as easily in the ethnic accents of a Polish Jew whose bookselling business hides his own dream of becoming a writer (“Mr. Kosminsky”) as he does in adopting the voice of a saucy soubrette, who deftly skirts the line that defines lawful employment in “Nothing Dishonest, Mind.” Clemak probably could have sold “The Outboard Motor” to The Twilight Zone, where objects sometimes have minds of their own.
A series of three stories set in China begins with “Under Heaven There Are Many Flowers” and excels in the kind of subtlety that captures the essence of venerability inherent to this ancient culture. Less satisfying are two parables, “The Man on the Seat” and “A Four-Penny Set,” which in the broadcast mode might not tempt--as the written versions do--to make one skip ahead to the “punch-line.” But for sheer charm and twinkle-in-the-eye humor, don’t miss “Mrs. O’Mara and the Zeppelins,” a very Irish ditty, and “The Battery,” a gentle poke at gullibility. Overall, a pleasant diversion.