cover image The Hand of Buddha

The Hand of Buddha

Linda Watanabe McFerrin. Coffee House Press, $13.95 (206pp) ISBN 978-1-56689-104-2

Women struggle to make sense of their lives in the 12 stories of this warm-hearted collection from novelist and poet McFerrin (Namako: Sea Cucumber). Most manage to pull themselves together, aided by luck, independent thinking and more than a little New Age spirituality. In ""Coyote Comes Calling,"" a woman named Sam is told by her doctor that she's either pregnant or has a fibrous tumor. Sam promptly climbs a rock in the desert, lights up a joint and meditates on what the cosmos is telling her. The answer comes when the thing inside her kicks against her ribs. In the most tender (but implausible) tale, ""A Little Variety,"" an aging neighborhood gossip named Mona meets a 27-year-old man-child at a local thrift store. He's exchanging old clothes for new because he doesn't know how to do his laundry; Mona teaches him and in short order they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after despite the multi-decade age difference. And in ""Rubber Time,"" the most accomplished entry here, a freelance writer of erotica finds a real-life relationship overtaken by her work in a delicious way. When these stories succeed, they do so largely because McFerrin's obvious generosity and personal warmth animate them. Others, however, are marred by amateurish missteps. McFerrin misfires in ""Pickled Eggs,"" a story about a woman desperately hoping to have a child, with a two-page account of surfing the Web, an activity impossible to distill into enthralling literature. And she propounds some uncomfortable stereotypes in ""Los Mariachis del Muerto,"" in which superstitious Mexican housemaids become convinced that the real culprits behind the SIDS-related death of a child are the Smurf dolls scattered around the nursery. The majority of McFerrin's stories, however, avoid such mistakes and undoubtedly will be inspirational fodder for spiritually inclined readers. (Sept.)