cover image FIELD STUDY


Rachel Seiffert, . . Pantheon, $19.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42259-1

In clear, pared-down prose, Seiffert, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Dark Room , crafts 11 intimate stories echoing with the dissonances of family life and massive historical upheaval. Set mostly in post-Communist Europe, the stories often start with Seiffert's characteristic sentence fragments, reminiscent of stage directions: "Summer and the third day of Martin's field study," begins the title story, in which Martin, a biology student, spitefully withholds information about the pollution levels of a river he's studying from a woman who rejects his advances. Descriptions are similarly telegraphic: in "Reach," a hairdresser mother is startled into fresh awareness of her seven-year-old daughter when the girl is ill, then cuts school ("Just looking at the slope of her daughter's shoulders, the nape of her neck, her sodden hair"). Though her settings are sharply rendered, Seiffert often omits crucial bits of information, turning her stories into puzzles, sad games, as in "The Crossing," in which a mother and children are helped across a river by a man whose accent betrays him as an enemy in an unspecified conflict. In "Second Best," the last, longest and best story of the collection, Seiffert allows herself more specificity in time and place (Poland and Berlin, 1996), as well as a more complete exploration of her characters' thoughts and feelings. Disciplined, spare and unsentimental, these are accomplished, often moving tales. Agent, Toby Eady. (July 20)