Property: Stories Between Two Novellas

Loosely linked by a theme--a need to possess--the 12 pieces in Property are succinct standalones, each a satisfying tale of people and their stuff. Lionel Shriver (The Mandibles) sets her stories in both the U.K. and the U.S., with characters like a narcissistic young freeloader "tempted to regard her physical presence as a gift" and a suburban mother resigned to "old-lady the evening away."

One of the collection's two novellas, "The Standing Chandelier" follows a couple's decades-long (mostly platonic) friendship, irrevocably affected by one's engagement; a presentation of an elaborate piece of the other's art as a wedding gift seals the trio's respective relationships. In "The Royal Male," a postman snoops through other people's letters, eventually unsealing a brighter future for himself.

Many tales center on houses. An Atlanta couple's over-30 son "doesn't seem to find adult life especially compelling," but his interest in the family split-level is devious. Graham and Rosalind both love their heavily-mortgaged Georgian in Sheffield, and when they decide to divorce, neither can afford to move out. A New York couple rents a house they dub "the Little Dump," but when they buy it, his sense of humor is subsumed by an obsession with home improvements. In the darkest home-ownership story, a woman celebrates snagging a foreclosed property, until the house clearly tells her to go away. A happier ending awaits the recently-widowed woman who struggles in her late husband's garden, confronting the neighbor whose "Self-Seeding Sycamore" pollinates her yard.

Shriver's stories feel complete, with a sense that the characters have fully embraced their quests for property. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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