cover image Temporary Agency

Temporary Agency

Rachel Pollack. St. Martin's Press, $18.95 (202pp) ISBN 978-0-312-11077-2

Pollack's latest presumes knowledge of its prequel, Unquenchable Fire, in which entities known as Bright Beings, Malignant Ones and Benign Ones actively participate in human affairs. In any case, this is a first-rate work, comprised of two related novellas. The title entry introduces narrator Ellen Pierson, whose cousin Paul Cabot unwittingly becomes involved with a Malignant One named Lisa Black Dust 7 (who runs a temp agency). Paul's travails lead the adolescent Ellen and her family to enlist the aid of lawyer Alison Birkett, who attempts to restore peace to Paul's life. Ellen and Alison uncover Grand Conspiracies, and Ellen discovers what people will do in the name of pragmatism. In the next story, ``Benign Adjustments,'' Alison and Ellen, who's now an adult, are paired again, to protect Alexander Timmerman, who, aided by three Benign Ones, espouses peace, love and reform of the financial system. The latter preachment leads to trouble, including a scene on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange graphic enough for the most avid action-adventure fan, but the heart of the novella examines how the most benign intentions can be adulterated by human frailties. Pollack is primarily concerned with the character and basic emotional underpinnings of the people in her future society-and, by extension-in our own. The two novellas combine into a consistently rational framework while never forgetting that the key to good fiction is people and what happens to them. (Aug.)