This debut collection of stories involves an array of brash, complex women interacting with one another, their families, and their lovers in strange and novel ways. The strong ``The Skinner Box'' (one of the few stories to employ a male protagonist) leads off the collection: Philip, a professor of Chinese literature, is torn between his ex-wife, a brazen performance artist, and one of his former students, a young Chinese woman afraid to go back to China during the Tiananmen Square student uprising. Denton nicely captures Philip's conflicting emotions, his attraction to each woman, and his uncertainty that finally jells into decision. ``Generations'' concerns a family of women: Obnoxious grandmother Lee, her daughter Nora, and precocious teenage granddaughter Michelle all cope with Nora's dying of breast cancer. As 15-year-old Michelle entertains her mother with dress-up skits from the mother's life, she is forced to confront the ambivalent love between her mother and grandmother. The title story involves two women, intense Catherine and artistic, malleable Judy, widows of the same man, uneasily living together and fearing that their mother-in-law will evict them from their joint farm. The title metaphor is a punishment Judy's mother used on her as a child; she tries it again to see ``if it would still hurt.'' Denton can nail a character with such provocative images: an unemployed woman falling asleep under her couch, a woman spying through a window on her lover exercising, two women hiding from a third under a bed. However, she relies on this skill to do too much work; it cannot strengthen her often oblique plots or keep her characters from being derivative of each other. A mixed bag. Powerful imagery and subtle writing accompanied by incomplete characters and plots make for spare, evocative, but often frustrating stories.
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