A lackluster collection of short stories from Norris (Walk With the Sickle Moon, Water into Wine, etc.) that have all the zip of a soda left too long uncapped. A burning glass once meant a glass that magnified the small, and that these stories certainly do. The characters, mostly women, lead singularly unremarkable or passive lives until they are irrevocably altered by that old staple of fiction, the transforming event—an event that is then subjected by Norris to her metaphorical burning glass. In ``Bee in Amber,'' a lonely old woman on vacation in Poland, thinking she is helping two star-crossed lovers, is caught up in an act of espionage, but then she deliberately ``unwove the final days the way they were and wove them back into the image of another's joy.'' The heroine of ``Inglenook,'' widowed early and childless, has spent her life waiting for the remaining ``years to pass away,'' but the unexpected return of a man whom she had refused to adopt as a baby when his mother abandoned him kindles hope. In other more noteworthy stories, a young widow traveling with her father visits a former concentration camp in Poland and realizes she must live more fully and love again (``Inside the Silence''); a young woman abandoned by her own father has an affirming encounter with a dying mafia don, who thinks she is his own long-lost daughter (``Mirror Image''); and, in yet another typical story, a young woman who has been looking after her ancient great-grandfather unexpectedly finds love when she arranges at considerable expense a special fireworks display on their isolated farm for his hundredth birthday (``The Cracker Man''). All well-written, but all echoes of old themes, old situations, and old-fashioned characters. Groundbreaking, not.
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