Nicole Stansbury, Author . Carroll & Graf $23 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1300-4

With her debut novel Places to Look for a Mother , Stansbury was hailed for her poignant portrayal of a troubled mother-daughter relationship. She again captures the subversive side of domesticity in this graceful, biting collection of stories whose characters are engaged in all-out gender warfare. In "American Bush," a naïve young woman who dreams of settling down and buying Baby Gap sweaters brings her "pseudo-Buddhist fuck of a boyfriend" to a strip club, where he flirts shamelessly with a dancer. Yet she is the one who ends up apologizing for their ensuing fight. In the title piece, a man starved for affection from his perpetually annoyed wife resorts to an act of perversion to get what he feels he deserves. The empty nester in "Share" pops pills to dull the pain of her loneliness, knowing that motherhood has saddled her with a lifetime of worry, as well as unparalleled beauty and meaning. The mothers, wives and girlfriends in these tales struggle against their perceived inadequacies. Like the beleaguered PTA mom in "The Apology," they desperately want recognition for the work they do, anything to avoid feeling "trivial and female." The men are sexually frustrated breadwinners, estranged either from their children or their partners. Occasionally, men and women both threaten to fall into stereotype. What saves them is Stansbury's sassy dialogue, eye for detail and elegant endings, which unexpectedly elicit empathy for even the most despicable characters. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
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