cover image A Dream of Old Leaves

A Dream of Old Leaves

Bret Lott. Viking Books, $16.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82807-4

The author of the admired novel The Man Who Owned Vermont has a gift for evoking the quiet--sometimes quietly desperate--lives of seemingly conventional Americans, often couples at odds with each other, struggling through divorce or worrying about their children. He writes cleanly, precisely and with imagination. Yet most of these tales are dismayingly slight, almost tentative exercises that fail to come to life. In the title story, one of the best here, young parents cope with a child's sleeping problem. ``Christmas Presents,'' similar in many ways, is overly sentimental. ``Garage Sale'' and ``Burglars'' both suggest potentially interesting undercurrents of violence but are disappointingly unrealized. ``What About My Lawn'' is a gimmicky tale of a woman's frustrated revenge that is quite unprepared for. Some stories, ``Night'' and ``Work,'' for example, seem like mere sketches from the author's notebook. ``Brothers'' is fashionably symbolist and minimalist at once. The collection, the work of a talented writer apparently marking time, might have been better left unpublished. (Aug . )