Brown has published novels and short fiction, but her special strength seems to be the short story, as this, her third collection (The Gifts of the Body, 1994, etc.), suggests. The ten haunting pieces collected here apply a gothic surrealism to the commonplace matters of the heart. The level of abstraction in Brown's poetic fictions carries a continental air. A short piece, ""Someone Else,"" is little more than a prose poem about the self and the desire to obliterate it. The much longer ""Aqua Series"" also concerns self-identity: An artist strips away years of paint from all her canvases to discover herself at the core of all of her work. But for all her philosophic inclinations, Brown can also stir the blood: ""Faith"" pulsates with the mystery and anxiety of waiting for one's number to be called; the act of removing a pot from the wheel segues into a chilling fantasy of a scalping in ""A Severing""; and in the title piece, an almost Clive Barkerish vignette, the narrator describes the awful device that keeps her captive. The ghost of Hawthorne lurks in ""A Mark,"" a tale of two lovers and the scar that threatens their bond. Two fairy tales cast a sinister spin on conventional tropes: In ""The Princess and the Pea,"" the annoying object is palpable but unidentified; and in ""The Enchantment,"" medieval battle serves allegorically to represent contemporary relationships. A flawless story, ""Bread,"" explores the homoerotic passion of boarding-school girls, nicely catching muted expressions of desire and offering a deft testament to the supremacy of grace and poise. In ""A Relationship,"" Brown adroitly uses varying viewpoints to capture the dishonesty and unresolved business between a couple and the woman's former lover. Distinctly outside the mainstream of American short fiction, Brown has more in common with Angela Carter than, say, Ann Beattie. Her tales match a highly original imagination with style and intelligence.