A Girl with a Monkey: New and Selected Stories

Leonard Michaels, Author Mercury House $14.95 (238p) ISBN 978-1-56279-120-9

Cult literary author Michaels returns to the short story form with this set of 17: five from the '90s, two older works rewritten and nine reprinted from his celebrated collections, Going Places and I Would Have Saved Them If I Could. Michaels specializes in chronicles of erotic obsession. In ""Viva La Tropicana,"" narrator Herman muses: ""I could almost understand what comes into being, like another presence, between a man and a woman, and could almost feel how they must touch lest neither exist and invincible nothingness prevails."" Infatuations have shaped Herman's life since his gangster uncle, Zev, fell for his widowed mother, who later ran off with a lawyer. When Zev asks Herman to contact Zev's ex in Havana, bizarre and dangerous espionage ensues. In the title story, a divorc named Beard falls in love with Inger, a German prostitute, who flees from his pathological intensity. Beard almost wrecks his life to buy her earrings, but loses the jewelry--and then encounters Inger again, on a train. ""Second Honeymoon"" amounts to a long, sweet exploration of Jewish bourgeois life in the '50s. Newlywed Sheila Kahn falls for Larry Starker, the waiter at the Catskills hotel where she and her husband are honeymooning. Michaels tells the story through the eyes of Larry's unsympathetic roommate, Joseph Kukov: as the bookish, contemptuous Joseph charts Larry's almost unwilling seduction of Sheila, readers watch Joseph transcend his resentments. Michaels's clean, cold prose pays dignified homage to the imperious demands of sexual connection. His erotically driven characters try desperately to mark each other, to enclose one another within impossible bounds. His remarkable talent lets his new stories join ranks with his old, surveying the line between eros and selfishness with an almost frightening accuracy. (Apr.)