Nelly Reifler, Author . Simon & Schuster $21 (160p) ISBN 978-0-7432-3608-9

With unflinching precision, Reifler's debut collection of 14 short stories examines young protagonists negotiating adult-governed worlds, often prematurely forced into brutal self-awareness. In "Teeny" a child is burdened with the adult responsibility of feeding the neighbor's pets before she's mature enough for the job. "Rascal," an edgier story, explores what happens when a teen too accustomed to "roughhousing" makes more than mischief with his hunting knife. Reifler's flair for portraying children processing the actions of adults is also on display in "Upstream," which depicts a boy coming to terms with his parent's divorce. When asked by his counselor why he likes monsters, the boy, still reeling from witnessing his father's infidelity, says, "People have to do what [monsters] want or the people get killed...monsters don't have to explain themselves." Reifler also poignantly explores the fractured family in "The Splinter," about a father and daughter separated from the girl's mother, who come to a visceral understanding of their loss when the girl falls on a thorn on a Greek beach, and her father is unable to extract it. Other stand-outs: "Baby," a surreal fantasy about a mother coping with a sickly, preternaturally articulate infant; "Auditor," a dark comedy about a ruthless and misanthropic tax auditor; and the title story, about a stripper who can't make her work life mesh with her everyday life. A few stories are weaker, but most suggest that the perceptive Reifler is a writer to watch. Agent, Leigh Feldman. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/28/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 160 pages - 978-1-4165-8548-0
Paperback - 148 pages - 978-0-7432-6150-0
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