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Some of the nine stories in this debut collection have appeared in literary magazines, and they have the some of the subjects common in such venues: gender issues, bad girl sexuality, weird families, slacker students. But Erian fails to distinguish herself stylistically, offering instead slight fictions that can seem downright generic.

At her best, Erian discovers the brutality of love not just in sexual relations but in the twisted things family members do to one another. The fine, uncharacteristic "Still Life With Plaster" is told from a young girl's point of view; she and her brother live with their grandparents while their divorced mother goes to school, and the old folks, while seemingly mean and cantankerous, are really quite loving and affectionate in their own unsophisticated way. The grown-up brother and sister in "When Animals Attack" are more explicitly brutal: they hate their mother so intensely that when she sends a young runaway to seek their help, they badger him and encourage him to run away again. Most of Erian's pieces involve young women trying to figure out sex and the politics of desire: the older, promiscuous college student in "Standing Up to the Superpowers" uses her sexuality to tease professors into good grades—but fails anyway; the chubby 13-year-old in "Alcatraz" imagines that the popular boy across the street really loves her because she has sex with him almost daily, even though he won't look at her in school; and the promiscuous American exchange student in "Lass" marries the son of a famous Irish novelist, then develops a dangerous attraction with the father. In the title story, a ne'er-do-well couple work in a movie theater, and the woman fears that she has breast cancer.

Malls, teenage pregnancy, casual sex, film studies: all related to the troubled equation between sex and love, which Erian explores with a rookie's talents. Competent but not yet anything special.

Pub Date: April 13th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50478-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2001