THE BLUE BEDROOM. Rosamunde Pilcher. St. Martin's. 257 pages. $17.95. With such internationally acclaimed novels as "The Shell Seekers" and "September" behind her, a volume of Rosamunde Pilcher's short stories was approached with a bit of skepticism. The chief reason was that Ms. Pilcher's fame came from thick sagas about life in Scotland. People and settings were carefully etched. Would a mere 20-page story give the same texture? The answer is an emphatic yes.
Unlike her novels, the 13 stories in "The Blue Bedroom" are set in England. But the thrust of the collection is the same as her novels: ordinary people struggling with their problems.
"The Blue Bedroom" shows off Ms. Pilcher's skill as a writer. Emily is a 14-year-old grappling to come to terms with the death jTC of her mother, and she has mixed emotions about her father's remarrying. When her stepmother becomes pregnant, Emily's confusion is intensified. A month before the baby is due, her father leaves on a business trip. When her stepmother goes into labor, Emily becomes a participant in the delivery. She not only becomes a big sister but also discovers a family.
The stories, which originally appeared in Good Housekeeping, are upbeat, but Ms. Pilcher nonetheless manages to avoid easy cliches or forced endings. If you thought "Avenger" in the title referred to a person, and "War" to Desert Storm, well, it's understandable; in the postwar, post-wimp era of George Bush, one expects to see him portrayed as a superhero, even when the war alluded to, as here, lies a half-century in the past.
What is unexpected about "Flight of the Avenger" -- the Avenger is the type of plane that Mr. Bush flew, at the time "the largest single-engine carrier-based plane in the world" -- is that the future president does come off somewhat heroically, mainly because of his modesty.
Although in 1944, Mr. Bush himself was shot down (and rescued) near a Japanese-occupied island where captured pilots were sometimes executed, he told Los Angeles writer Joe Hyams that "the real heroes to me were the Marines going ashore at Iwo Jima. I wore clean laundry every night and ate well." Mr. Hyams, a former Army correspondent, is a sympathetic biographer of the youthful Mr. Bush in wartime -- too sympathetic, in fact, for the future president comes off as too good to be true.
The publisher probably gave this book its subtitle in hope of gaining shelf space in bookstores' guidebook sections. But this personal journal is a guidebook, perhaps, to the author's dissipation and, in passing, to Metro stations and Turkish baths, prostitute-filled alleys and dream-filled nights.
For example, here's Mr. Osborne on the city's 90-year-old subway system: "A giant brain sleeping through decades of history and filled with unrepeatable nightmares" -- accidents, bombings and lynchings in its electrically charged tunnels where passengers daydream "like Aborigines feeling their way along songlines."
A Boulevard de Clichy sex shop: "With a garish panache that would cause riots in a puritan country, it visually vomits over the ,, casual passer-by . . ."
Odd bits of history, forgotten streets and unforgettable images reward the reader who follows this guide into the underbelly of Paris.