cover image A Relative Stranger: Stories

A Relative Stranger: Stories

Charles Baxter. W. W. Norton & Company, $17.95 (223pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02867-6

Most of the protagonists in these 13 wonderfully varied, often funny stories set by Baxter ( Harmony of the World ) in Michigan are complex men reaching for answers that elude them. On the other hand their women, anchored in a simple and peaceful pragmatism, more wisely accept their mates' odd hungers and lunatic streaks. Stephen in ``Lake Stephen'' feels dissatisfied with Jan, his lover--she always seems to know in advance what he will do and say. When he importunes her to throw caution to the wind for once, she complies, but less than innocently: ``Unless she broke the rules now,'' Jan realizes, ``he would not follow the rules later.'' In ``Westland'' Warren turns in a teenage runaway and, as a result, is drawn with his family into the lives of strangers, much as Cooper in ``Shelter'' terrifies his wife and child with his quixotic gesture of inviting derelicts into their home. In Baxter's best and final story, ``Saul and Patsy Are Pregnant,'' the characters from preceding stories come together, and their collective longing is resolved. Saul learns what the women have always known: happiness, if such a thing can exist, is love. (Sept.)