Kevin Brockmeier, . . Pantheon, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42134-1

Twenty-eight-year-old Brockmeier won inclusion in the 1997 O. Henry Prize anthology for "These Hands," a delicate and risky story about a male nanny who may be unhealthily attached to the young girl in his care. Lewis, the nanny, tells the reader in a voice rich with wit, compassion and longing about his brief time caring for Caroline, a girl who seems ordinary in every way—except to him, to whom each of her movements is precious: "Caroline lay on the silver-gray carpet, winking each eye in turn as she scrutinized her thumb." As the first story in this debut collection, it strikes an impressive note, but it also sets a standard only intermittently met in the remaining 10 stories. Brockmeier assembles the collection loosely around the theme of fairy tales, aiming for a sense of wonder and enchantment, though sometimes settling for the familiar and earthbound or drifting into weightless whimsy. The title story features a librarian whose grown children are inattentive and whose supervisor shows little sense of humor. When she encounters the village eccentric among the library stacks, it comes as no surprise that he's destined to rescue her from her prosaic existence. In "The Light Through the Window," a window cleaner swoops across the facade of the huge building where he lives and works, dreaming about his past. Most amusing is the clever "A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin," which brings the betrayed dwarf of Grimm legend (or more accurately, half of him) into the present day. The highlight is a hilarious letter—only half-finished—from the dwarf's missing half. Brockmeier's hallmark is the fineness of his prose, and in the tender sweep of his best stories he proves himself a formidable young writer. Agent, Kyung Cho. (Mar. 26)