A respected Puerto Rican writer delivers a collection of short stories (her first in English) that, for all its abundant wit and style, is maddeningly elusive. Filled with bits of jargon and references to American films and directors, Vega's stories like to lead readers astray. They force identification with characters headed nowhere, and they teasingly intimate that there will be a progression when in fact there is only a convoluted whirling in place. Since story after story falls apart at the end, and in precisely the same manner, we cannot but assume that these ``surprise endings'' worthy of a seventh-grader's pranks (in ``Solutions, Inc.'' the anonymous ``patroness'' of a detective-like agency helping women find grounds for divorce turns out to be the ``perfect husband'' of the one woman they can't help; a tacky ``Editor's Note'' at the end of the title story explains the narrator's death) are intentional exercises of craft. Her comic touch is heavy-handed and similarly juvenile. In an apparent effort at experimentation, Vega sometimes composes in numbered sections with a change of speaker and/or locale at each break. There are stabs at genre: ``Just One Small Detail'' almost succeeds as a parody of detective fiction; ``Deliverance From Evil'' and ``SÇrie Noire'' pose as ghost stories. Peopled by spirits, lies, and half-truths, Vega's writing aims for the some of the tone but never attains the height of magic realism. Narrators often assume the roles of gossip columnists, reminiscent of those busybodies we hope literature will block out. The novella ``Miss Florence's Trunk'' (composed mostly of diary entries from an American tutor on a Canadian sugar plantation in the mid 1800s) is a bit more absorbing, but it, like many of the stories, suffers from its passive, retrospective voice. Craft, perception, intelligence. These stories have everything going for them. Too bad the result is a mishmash.
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