cover image The Secret Names of Women

The Secret Names of Women

Lynne Barrett. Carnegie-Mellon University Press, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-88748-287-8

From Elvis impersonators to women punk rockers, the characters in Barrett's (The Land of Go) second story collection travel a surreal landscape, moving from one identity search to another as they struggle with the disparities between appearance and reality, commitment and freedom, security and adventure. Throughout these eight stories, Barrett relentlessly delineates her characters and their pasts, tracing a fine line from their heartbreaks and histories to their current fears and compromised triumphs. In ""Twentieth Century Design,"" Elizabeth's appreciation for her grandmother, a prim, pious woman whose husband has left her for ""the teller at the drive-up window,"" grows when she discovers her grandmother's guilty secret, leaving her with a new image: ""I like to think of the girl who must have been wild once. And the discipline with which she hid herself."" In ""The Former Star Carlson,"" 32-year-old Star enacts her desire to ""have been married"" and becomes the wife of a citizenship-seeking ergonomist, nearly has a breakdown during the INS investigations and finds herself attracted to her immigration lawyer. Barrett creates eccentric, lively characters whose longings for love and stability amid disappointments are poignant and humorous, as the author plays with the notion that destiny and identity are interchangeable. After becoming thoroughly involved in her characters' personalities, so fluently and persuasively conveyed, readers will likely close the book still pondering their next transformations. Barrett's voice is sure, and her cynical truths (""That's a woman's love.... It's the sickest thing going"") and precise observations display a bold, decisive talent. (May)