cover image The Difference Between Women and Men

The Difference Between Women and Men

Bret Lott, . . Random, $23.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50262-0

The third collection from Oprah author Lott (A Song I Knew by Heart ; Jewel ) comprises uneven stories that explore the frail relationships and difficult emotions that render life surreal: in the eponymous story, an angry wife miraculously moves all of her furniture, including a heavy armoire containing her bewildered husband's things, to one corner of the bedroom. In "Family," a terrible fight between another husband and wife transforms their children into television-watching, complaining, aerobicizing dolls who live in a cooler. "Rose" echoes William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" but lacks its predecessor's narrative power, becoming instead a heavy-handed allegory starring an ancient, murderous necrophiliac. Other stories feature mostly unnamed, middle-aged characters in depressing situations, including bankruptcy, adultery, poverty, marital dissolution, and death. Lott's terse reflections on the struggles of average people trying to cope with mundane tragedy long to evoke Raymond Carver; instead, they produce meaningless dialogue, and epiphanies reached in the last line feel similarly forced. An occasional articulate observation about the difference between actual selves and imagined selves isn't enough to overcome cloying imitation or pervasive sentimentality. Agent, Marian Young . (July)