Soft Maniacs: Stories

Maggie Estep, Author
Maggie Estep, Author Simon & Schuster $21 (224p) ISBN 978-0-684-86333-7
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Not a book for the timid, this wonderfully intense collection of interconnected short stories from the author of Diary of an Emotional Idiot presents a cast of searchers, almost-but-not-quite-lost souls crisscrossing a lusciously sordid New York. The book centers around the tangled lives of two single women. In ""Horses,"" the reader is introduced to free-spirited Katie, the daughter of a circus lion tamer, and to wealthy, almost pathologically oversexed Jody, who is slumming it as the lion tamer's lover. Though both women leave the circus and travel to New York, where Jody becomes a therapist and Katie works at various jobs (walking dogs, doing phone sex, etc.) and takes photographs, their parallel paths never cross (although they both date the same man at different times). The juxtaposition of Estep's fluid prose with her jarring, hard-edged content--her stories are laced with sex--keeps the reader's constant attention, as does her fascinating though sometimes disconcerting decision to track her female protagonists by allowing the men in their lives to narrate. In ""The Patient,"" Jody's artist lover, Rob, impregnates a lesbian he calls Crone after he comes home and discovers her having sex with Jody. In ""Teeth,"" Jody seduces her patient, Jack, during a session in which he describes his mistreatment at the hands of a sexually predatory intern. Later, in ""Monkeys,"" Jack and Katie are living together, and Jack progresses from using Katie's cat as a prop in his tourist scams to working an honest job at a stable in Brooklyn, while in ""One of Us,"" Jody, now married, takes steps to adopt the Crone's child. Though their paths may be crooked, Estep's richly drawn characters do ultimately manage to reach a hard-won state of grace in this disturbing, audacious and unconventionally satisfying book. (Sept.)
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