James Tate, . . Verse, $23 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-9703672-5-9

Tate brings a poet's touch to the short stories in this astounding and bizarre collection, reflecting the writer's flair for black humor and absurdity as he explores the nooks and crannies of ordinary life. Tate is a blunt, sharp narrator who takes his stories in unexpected directions, and his talent for brevity surfaces in the many short-short entries that pack a powerful conceptual wallop in just a few pages. The longer stories aren't always as effective, but they still showcase the gifts of a remarkably versatile author who handles subjects ranging from politics and business to romance, marriage and infidelity. The political angle surfaces in "Traces of Plague Found Near Reagan Ranch," a cheeky tale about a prominent politician's son who finds himself longing for a simple life until his father is shot. Tate also plays the relationship card with aplomb in several stories, including "The Torque-Master of Advanced Video," a yarn about a video store manager whose romance begins to go sour when his tyrannical boss turns up the heat on him at work. Occasionally the stories are so strange that they simply defy categorization—"Beep," for instance, deals with a character who barks out strange noises in inappropriate situations, while the title story is a brief poetic musing about a middle-class man's growing sense of alienation: "I am an experiment, a mechanical bee placed near the hive." Tate's style is definitely an acquired taste, but fiction lovers who come to this book with an open mind will find themselves challenged and entertained by a brilliant writer with a very fertile imagination. (Dec. 1)

Forecast:Tate has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his poetry, which will help draw attention to this excellent small press offering. The following review was omitted from an earlier issue because of a production error.