Hannah Tinti, . . Dial, $22.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33743-4

Animals play the starring roles in Tinti's striking debut collection. In 11 highly original, sometimes gorgeous stories, they are freighted with the symbolic significance of all that is peculiar, cruel and loving in their human counterparts. "Big animals are like big problems," says the title story's zookeeper, but more often, it's people and their complex relationships to themselves and one another that cause the problems. In "Preservation," a young painter charged with restoring murals in a natural history museum's dioramas is haunted by the impending death of her artist father in the form of a stuffed black bear come to life. A woman mourns the loss of her lover while caring for his pet boa constrictor in "How to Revitalize the Snake in Your Life." Tinti's weaker stories—"Gallus, Gallus" and "Hit Man of the Year"—read more like parables and lack the psychological realism that makes her wildest notions work so brilliantly. At its best, Tinti's suburban gothic recalls Joy Williams, where violence is domesticated though no less horrifying: a mother commits murder and covers the body with breakfast cereal in "Home Sweet Home," while in "Bloodworks," a father with his own history of cruelty to animals discovers a dead kitten in his son's closet and worries that there is "something in the family blood." A redeeming generosity underlies the harsher realities in these stories, and it is to Tinti's credit that her zookeepers and pet owners, as flawed as they are, are as sympathetic as her wise giraffes and gentle bunnies. Agent, Nicole Aragi. (On sale Mar. 3)

Forecast: With rights sold in a dozen countries and Tinti's visibility as the editor of the new, well-regarded One Story magazine, this should make a much bigger splash than most debut collections.