Sixteen stories that, like contemporary fairy tales, disclose those bittersweet truths about life that hide in unlikely and grotesque disguises. A writer engaged as much with the larger world as with the personal, Bender writes in stylish prose about men and women who want to live to the fullest but often find bizarre and unexpected obstacles in their way--obstacles that, while suggesting the tragic nature of existence, are often darkly comic also: In ""Call My Name,"" a wealthy young woman spends an afternoon ""auditioning men"" only to find that the man she chooses prefers to watch television; in ""Marzipan,"" a daughter's mourning is discomposed when her mother comes back from the dead to share the leftover cake the family has kept in the freezer; and ""The Rememberer,"" a man who's worried that people think too much, experiences reverse evolution and finally becomes a salamander that his young lover reluctantly releases into the ocean. Meanwhile, the title piece tells of a father who forces his young daughter to wear a stone backpack that will make her sensitive to suffering; her sensitivity, however, becomes so overwhelming that she envies a girl whose flammable skirt caught on fire, because, however briefly, ""her passion had arrived"" and, unlike the narrator, she could feel freely. In other standouts, a woman falls in love with a robber who steals rings hidden in kitchen canisters from a rich opera-going householder (""The Ring""); a grieving librarian seduces her male patrons (""Quiet Please""); and a young woman finds it hard to love her wounded husband, who's come back from war without his lips (""What You Left in the Ditch""). A notable debut by a writer who sees not only the spider but also the shining filaments that trap us.