A decade or so ago it would have been all but inconceivable for a young American writer to make his name with a collection of short stories. Yet when David Leavitt published Family Dancing two years ago, shortly after his graduation from Yale, the book’s success was phenomenal: it received enthusiastic reviews, it sold briskly for several months at all the best bookstores, it was nominated for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Leavitt, who had previously published two stories in the New Yorker, one in Harper’s, and one in Prism, was suddenly— to judge by the way everybody was talking about him—a Major American Literary Figure.

Yet the stories themselves were, by and large, exasperatingly commonplace. Throughout most of them Leavitt (who had written his first serious fiction scarcely three or four years earlier, as a member of Knopf...

 
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