Cool beauty Celia is pursued by the malignant spectre of a past lover whenever she is alone with another man -'Not only is he married, his cock is only three inches long,' he whispers maddeningly - but she meets her match in a spirit-worshipping landlady who is almost as mercenary as she is. In 'The Pool People', a tiresome, rich Key Westerner is haunted by the two men who built her pool, spirits her granddaughter has made into imaginary friends: 'They said, when was my Grammy coming to swim at night again? We want to play with her.' This gives the tone - rather obvious and not particularly scary set-ups, but with here and there a pleasurable twist: the pool people are blue.
It's always left open to the reader to minimise the supernatural element. In 'Counting Sheep', Janey, a Wordsworth scholar, is more amused than convinced by the idea that her vanished colleague has been turned into an intelligent-looking sheep after leaving his watch on a magic wish-stone in the Lake District. In 'Ilse's House', Dinah, now having second thoughts about her impending marriage, admits that she only started seeing the spectre of her lover's ex-wife wedged in the space between the fridge and the kitchen wall after Greg described her once sitting and sulking there. Perhaps the cleverest story is 'The Double Poet', in which glamorous Karo McKay, once just plain Carrie Martin, comes to believe she has a malevolent double who is taking up spare gigs on her poetry-reading circuit, signing copies for fans, giving banal quotes to the press and even bedding male groupies. Karo's initial smugness gives way to terror - and a much improved writing style - as she faces the extinction of her own persona. This is a witty cautionary tale about how talent can corrupt its possessor. Thankfully, judging by Lurie's own cool insight in these deliciously light pieces, that will never happen to her.
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