cover image Amor and Psycho

Amor and Psycho

Carolyn Cooke. Knopf, $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-307-59474-7

Psyche, rechristened Psycho by high school “witchy girls,” is the star of the local poetry slam team. Psycho is smart, funny, and maybe a little psychic, and though she’s been known to adjust facts “for realistic effect,” as the narrator tells us, she is instantly likable. Which makes it hard not to miss her when her story morphs into those of two other women in her town, a foggy place up the coast from San Francisco where “poetry is a blood sport.” In her second story collection (after The Bostons), Cooke delivers tales of cancer; bosses who stop paying their employees; a teacher and her Native American charge, both with boundary issues; an ambitious young writer who works for a Hustler-like magazine; and a mysterious culture, the Mezima-Wa. Cooke’s stories twist and turn, playing games with language. They don’t stop where you think they will (or, sometimes, where you think they should), and even when they disappoint (as in “She Bites,” a note-perfect reckoning between man and contractor, form and function, that turns into magical realism 101), they leave you with something: shards of phrases; a lifetime of attitudes conveyed in a word or an aside; or odd, perfect details that stick in your mind. Agent: Laurie Fox, Linda Chester Literary Agency. (Aug.)