The Long and Short of It

Pamela Painter, Author
Pamela Painter, Author Carnegie-Mellon University Press $15.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-88748-286-1
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Cheating spouses, broken households and the children caught between them drive most of these 25 well-made stories, tightly written and strewn with crackling dialogue. In the moving ""New Family Car,"" a woman about to announce that she's leaving her husband overhears her teenage daughter's conversations with friends: each friend describes a dysfunctional household worse than her own.The two children of ""Feeding the Piranha"" prove expert at telling their divorced parents exactly what each wants to hear about the other. In ""The Second Night of a One Night Stand,"" a wife tries to get even with her adulterous husband by having her own affair, only to fall in love with the other man. Painter excels at depicting failing marriages, bruised families and divorce: she knows how spouses learn the language of deception, and how children grow jaded. The tales that stray from these settings are, in general, less successful, though ""The Real Story"" looks cleverly at how writers use (and abuse) material from their own lives. As her title implies, Painter mixes short-short stories (a page or three in length) among more expansive work. Some of the former are models of concision and punch, like ""The New Year,"" a page-and-a-half tale of a fleeing husband, or ""The Bridge,"" a glimpse of a woman who may or may not have thrown a baby over the iron railing. Painter is also a co-author of What If?, a standard manual for fiction-writing classes: her expertise shows in this first book of her own fiction, which combines her technical versatility with pathos and poise. (July)
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