Story lovers: check the literary newsstands. Recent magazines feature an assortment of short fiction
We have been mining magazines for stories lately and have come up with some unexpected nuggets. The recently revamped Harper's included two brief fiction offerings in its May digest section. Jorge Luis Borges's ''Borges: A Dream'' and the late Julio Cortazar's ''A Small Paradise'' conjure the surreal visions we have come to expect from Latin American writers. Sadly, neither shows its author to full advantage. Borges's dream sketchily suggests ficciones we have already studied. Cortazar's ''fable'' eschews particularized characters and story and so never escapes the arid precincts of conceptualism. These are minor efforts from masters, but readers can take heart in Harper's renewed publishing of fiction.
The same magazine's featured nonfiction article, ''A Press Guide to Paradise, '' proves a surprise bonanza for story lovers. Harper's invited editors of periodicals as diverse as Aviation Week & Space Technology and Cosmopolitan to share their design specifications for, you guessed it, Eden. Precious, poignant, hilarious, and banal by turns, the piece demonstrates once again how elusive is the conception of a satisfying perfection.
In the May issue of The Atlantic, the hackneyed plot of E. L. Doctorow's ''Willi'' generates little suspense: Sensitive child witnesses beautiful mother coupling with young tutor. Child exposes pair to elder father. Innocence ends. The child's rage at his mother reads more like a Freud scenario than living passion. And yet, this story works. While child and tutor remain shadow presences, Doctorow patterns the May-December parents on a universal model. When the crucial moment comes in the final two sentences, tremors of a seismic event on a Galician farm in the year 1910 rock the reader where he lives.
New Yorker readers have met Jamaica Kincaid's Antigua nymph, Annie John, in previous stories ''Gwen'' and ''The Red Girl.'' She reappears in ''Somewhere, Belgium'' (May 14). ''In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had ever imagined anyone could be. . . .'' Schoolgirl crushes and classroom contretemps are punctuated by Annie's clashes with her mother. The narrator has seen that beatific idol of her childhood turn, as she entered adolescence, into archenemy and rival. The narrator paints her younger self in poor-little-wonder-girl terms. Every classmate adored her. Teachers regarded her as a treasured charge. While the narrator postures, readers gaze after the mother she strains to outshine. Annie's mother radiates magic. Her briefest appearance casts a powerful spell. Kincaid's island setting contributes to the aura: ''It wasn't until our supper of the green figs cooked with flying fish in coconut milk that we looked at each other again. . . .''
Norman Mailer fans: Grab Vanity Fair (May and June) for two hefty excerpts from the Brooklyn Bruiser's forthcoming murder mystery, ''Tough Guys Don't Dance.''