Judy Budnitz, Author . Knopf $23 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-41242-4

Budnitz (Flying Leap ; If I Told You Once ) creates her own hybrid brand of stark, dystopian reality in this impressive collection, working an odd jumble of fantastical, historical and contemporary detail into stories that comment obliquely on the current state of human affairs. In "Where We Come From," a pregnant woman desperate to have her baby in America goes to great lengths to cross the border, waiting for years to give birth until her son "fills her completely, his arms fill her arms, his legs fill her legs." In "The Kindest Cut," the narrator discovers an old journal written by a surgeon during a war: blue and gray uniforms and a doctor's surgical techniques suggest the American Civil War, but the story takes a fantastical twist as the surgeon become obsessed with severed limbs. In the disturbing and seemingly futuristic world of "Sales," door-to-door salesmen are rounded up and kept in an unlocked pen from which they choose not to escape. Funny and sad at once, it's a kind of twisted love story in which a young woman's attempts to help are rejected: "The salesmen don't know that I am trying to help them, they yell at me that I'm ruining business, standing in the way of normal commerce. The customer is always right! they scream." Budnitz's first-person narrators are pitch perfect, helping the reader to see from their perspectives, no matter how odd it might be. These bizarre and masterfully crafted stories will thrill readers of literary fiction who hunger for an innovative American voice. Agent, Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman. 6-city author tour. (Feb.)

Forecast: Budnitz has quietly been making a name for herself, with stories in the New Yorker, Harper's and the Paris Review. This catchily titled collection should bump her up a few more notches.

Reviewed on: 12/06/2004
Release date: 02/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 285 pages - 978-0-00-712204-2
Paperback - 285 pages - 978-0-375-72686-6
Open Ebook - 191 pages - 978-0-307-42701-4
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