A debut collection of ten stories, including the title novella: sparse yet vivid fictions dealing mostly with end-moves following diagnoses of cancer, or with other steps in the grieving process. The title novella concerns a librarian, ostensibly happily married, who gets involved in a long-term affair with an insurance salesman whose wife is struggling with cancer. ``We don't get the lives we want,'' the lover sums up; the narrator includes gracefully interpolated episodes from other portions of the librarian's life—a mother whose use of the rosary provides a summarizing image, a father who left the family long ago. Of the shorter stories here, ``Life Signs'' is a delicate, atmospheric account of a woman with terminal cancer who's camping on a deserted beach with her husband; and ``Secrets'' forces Cooper to relive his grief over his father's death, again from cancer, while facing the death of his old dog. ``UFO'' is a memorable tale about a group of alien-theory devotees who meet in the desert: ``...only a few minutes from the very place where we now sit, Dwight David Eisenhower met with the leader of an alien force from outer space.'' Beeman is at her best, in fact, when she juxtaposes ordinary lives with such odd, quixotic situations to good metaphoric effect: In ``Taking Fire,'' an adolescent narrator is fascinated by town gossip concerning two lovers who died in a parked car. In ``Burning Joan,'' two youngish girls, not the ``saintly types,'' talk together unself-consciously while intimations of a larger world are represented as the girls decide, for reasons nicely implied rather than stated, to set fire to their dolls. The collection itself seems to be a step in a long grieving process, but there's enough offbeat comedy and touching reminiscence here to avoid lugubriousness.
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