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Thursday September 7, 2000

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Dahl short story collection worth a look

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By Vanessa Francis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Late children's author delights with "Skin and Other Stories"

The name Roald Dahl evokes, for many, a fond childhood memory. His previous books, including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach" - both made into feature films - were enjoyed by many during their early years of reading.

Dahl's stories were made famous because of their fantasy quality and the originality of their characters. His newly-released short story collection, "Skin and Other Stories," published a decade after the acclaimed author's death, is certainly no exception to his literary talent.

The collection includes eleven stories intended for a young adult audience. Each story features a troubled main character who, by the story's end, meets his or her demise - often times in a graphic fashion. In the fictitious world of Roald Dahl, justice prevails.

While the stories tend to open slowly, the reader soon becomes ensnared in the narrative and anxiously awaits the outcome.

All around, the stories are good, but the standouts are definitely "Skin" and "The Surgeon" (which appeared in Playboy in 1986).

The story "Skin," written entirely in flashback, is about an elderly homeless man who possesses a priceless work of art tattooed on his back and is tempted by a large sum of money to sell it.

The title character of "The Surgeon," the caring physician Robert Sandy, living in Oxford, is similarly teased with the allure of money when the prince of Saudi Arabia presents him with a rare diamond worth over a million dollars after Sandy saves his life from a car accident.

These stories both address the power of the dollar to challenge personal morality. In this collection, the lust for money often proves to be the undoing of the protagonist. Dahl, in this book and in his previous works, is consistently critical of materialism and the dangers that it presents to the individual.

Furthermore, both these stories illustrate another common theme of Dahl's work- an overwhelming amount of gory detail. In "Lamb to the Slaughter," for example, one character kills her husband by a blow to the head with a frozen leg of lamb.

The themes of violence and gore, furthermore, are not just limited to people. Dahl extends his flair for imaginative gross-out narratives to the animal kingdom. In "An African Story," for example, a giraffe is decapitated by an airplane wing and a dog is beaten to death.

Dahl's sympathies do occasionally though turn to the side of nature, as in "The Sound Machine," where a scientist creates a machine that measures the screams from roses and other flora as they are cut.

The stories, despite being targeted at a younger audience,are both intelligently written and interesting for all ages.

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