A. L. Kennedy, Author . Knopf $23 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4055-1

A longing for connection is masked by ironic detachment in these 12 bracing, unsentimental stories by award-winning Scottish writer Kennedy (Everything You Need, etc.). Though occasionally too brief and telegraphic, most spark vividly to life, lit by Kennedy's unexpected, syncopated phrasings. Unusual settings give a piquant, humorous tilt to her characters' misery. In "Elsewhere," the lonely female protagonist faces her desolate future at a rodeo, after she overhears a man say, "That Juney Morris? I can't see anyone riding her, bare belly." In the title story, two lovers romp in Rome's Coliseum, aware that they may be discovered at any second, but delighting in the rush that possible exposure brings. An uptight lawyer embarks on a risky affair in the giddy "An Immaculate Man," when he is seduced by his married (male) boss and finds his whole world turned upside down ("I don't look gay. I don't act gay") and marvelously renewed: "a pleasant insanity was flaring and hopping up from rib to rib, lifting him, lifting him entire." More infidelity is revealed in "White House at Night," in which a husband-and-wife team of forensic examiners unearth the bodies of genocide victims in an unidentified Eastern European country, and the womanizing husband comes to the startling realization that his wife is capable of deception, too. The grisly backdrop brings violence to the fore, but it lurks more surreptitiously in other stories, like "A Bad Son," in which a boy spends a weekend on a farm, oppressed by the knowledge that he has left his abusive father alone with his mother. So eager is he to "not feel a thing" that even the snow tastes of "being invisible." Though the crushing weight of anomie and anxiety sometimes overwhelms her characters, turning them into ciphers, Kennedy fights clear of generalities with sharp, unsettling prose. (June 27)

Reviewed on: 06/09/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Open Ebook - 117 pages - 978-0-307-42639-0
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