SEVEN DAYS & SEVEN SINS

Pamela Ditchoff, Author . Crown/Shaye Areheart $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-609-60979-8

Using the biblical sins and the days of the week as a framework, this collection of interlocked stories about a smalltown neighborhood is faintly surreal and startlingly honest, casting the outward stability of its subjects' lives into doubt. The stories are presented by precocious 12-year-old Angela, who watches her Lantern Hill Lane neighbors with X-ray eyes. She isn't the only one peering through windows. In "Lust," George, a paleontologist, spies on hopelessly obese Opal with binoculars as he cares for his father, who is slowly losing his mind. In "Saturday's Child Works Hard for a Living," one of the book's more programmatic tales, Opal nearly loses her bank job because of her weight—but she wins by threatening her supervisors with a lawsuit. Ditchoff (The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies) memorably zooms in on private lives, showing them nakedly without ever becoming too clumsy or outrageous. Even a story about a dwarf's love affair with a mentally ill woman ("Monday's Child Is Fair of Face") and another in which a woman bereft of both her husband and her dog prefers to crawl when she is alone in her house ("Tuesday's Child Is Full of Grace") allot their subjects dignity. These smart, moving stories create a picture of a small, tormented community whose members are charmingly matter-of-fact about their eccentricities. (July)

Forecast:Ditchoff must compete in a crowded field, but her offbeat stories hold their own. Her move from Coffee House to Shaye Areheart may help her reach a wider audience.

Reviewed on: 06/30/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
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