Block's debut short story collection is an odd, disturbing affair, full of low-life characters and down-and-out wanderers who find themselves swept away by bizarre and calamitous circumstances that threaten their shaky hold on stability and security. The title tale is a perfect example of Block's primary ironic motif, telling the story of a woman who goes searching for vengeance after being robbed, only to end up threatening an elderly woman who is trying to conceal a minor hit-and-run parking violation. The motif surfaces constantly, and convinces only intermittently. In one strong entry, "The High Month," a woman steals the classic car her boyfriend seems to value over her love, only to find herself in dire circumstances when she runs out of gas near a seedy bar and must rely on a drunken patron for help. Bus stops, adult book stores and down-and-dirty road trips constitute the backdrops for other stories, although Block does range abroad in a pair of stories in which Venice and Marrakech provide the more exotic scenery. Block has a way of turning seemingly conventional situations upside down, but the desperate, edgy state of virtually every central character begins to grow monotonous as the collection progresses, and the dreary settings wear thin after a while as well. Block's writing is something of an acquired taste, but readers interested in exploring life's dark, dangerous corners will find an intriguing array of ideas and situations here. (Oct. 30)
Forecast:Edgy, clever jacket art, a blurb by Charles Baxter and the fact that Block won the 2001 Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 2001 for this collection should attract select readers.