American women take the essay form and make it their own in this excellent collection edited by Martin (English/Claremont Graduate School). She divides these pieces by well-known writers into categories that themselves reflect important truths about women's priorities and experiences: ""Generations: Essays on the Family,"" ""Breaking the Silence: Women Confront Oppression and Violence,"" ""Women's Bodies, Women's Choices,"" and so on. The individual essays deal with issues that touch many women--relationships, identity, and abuse--personal stories told with often startling candor. Nancy K. Miller's ""My Father's Penis"" breaks that holiest of taboos against women acknowledging their fathers' sexuality. Shana Penn, in ""Death of Popeye,"" tells of her sexual abuse by a male babysitter and the resulting loss of both innocence and her sense of control over her environment. And there is an anonymous first-person account, reprinted from Harper's, of a 20-year-old woman's rape. The authors do not pontificate, they share. The results are often more nonfiction short stories than what we generally think of as essays, and in this way American women writers have adapted the form to suit their own methods of exposition. There are examples of more traditional essay writing: Mary Gordon's ""A Moral Choice,"" for one, which dispassionately discusses the abortion issue. And Martin also stretches her definition of essay to include what is certainly the least traditional piece, ""I Just Came Out Pregnant""--the oral history of Felicita Garcia, a Puerto Rican woman who became pregnant at the age of 16. With hardly a discordant note in the group, beautifully wrought pieces from some of our finest contemporary American authors.