Maxine Chernoff, Author . Coffee House $16.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-56689-127-1

Poet and novelist Chernoff infuses this collection (15 new stories plus selections from Bop and Signs of Devotion) alternately with hope and resignation, and a touch of the macabre. People with homes, dogs, kids, cancer, lovers and nightmares demonstrate an extraordinary breadth of emotions, but Chernoff is most successful in depicting sarcastic, jaded women. The suspicions of Tammy Conway in "Onto the Past" highlight Chernoff's talent for caustic observation that camouflages vulnerability: "Probably Holly had a rich husband in the wine trade or a dead husband with a trust fund. Maybe [she] was a member of a feminist coven whose mission was to shame and expose ordinary people," Tammy says of her husband's mistress. "Acts of Nature" and "That Summer" feature dead men whose lovers' lives are defined by the weight of sorrow and the burden of memories. Russian immigrant Oleg Lum appears in two stories and fumbles through both with heavily stylized dialect that detracts from his philosophical views on wealth, trust and loss. "Snowflake Come Home" is a vague meditation on a missing and possibly decapitated cockatiel—barely a story, yet a fine example of Chernoff's episodic musings on life and death. The title story is even more so, consisting of 12 vignettes that illuminate characters in a few lines where other writers need a few pages. Endings are Chernoff's friend and foe. Some ("Death Swap," "Jeopardy") leave you wishing for more of her understated wisdom, and others ("November," "Enough") show a penchant for surrealism that can obscure her otherwise tightly crafted, expertly ironic tales. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/25/2002
Release date: 01/01/2002
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