Like a brain in a bell jar, Lowe's first book fascinates with its intricate construction and explicit display of human wonder. The 19 short essays that make up this wild ride flow in a stream of consciousness that is decidedly nature-driven and anchored hard in the deaths of loved ones. The author (who has contributed to Harper's and other publications) manages not only to offer her readers an esoteric education, she mixes in the melancholy autobiography of a tomboy who has reached midlife with more than her share of tragedy, handfuls of epiphanies, and a keen ability to render her senses, especially smell, into words. The book is her baby, a reaction to not having children, and an affirmation of her place in the world: something more than the Visible Woman doll of her youth and something less than immortal. Each essay's topic, be it allergies, bears, or blood, is scalpeled open, and what pours forth is a mix of hard science, psychology, and poetry--picture Linus Pauling, Freud, and Anne Sexton on holiday. A squall of bats melds into the flow of cells that began her life, a lesson on playing drums translates into the vision of a friend who died kayaking, her head having hit a rock: ``She was found in the bend of a river, an inverted Medusa, her hair like coils of magma cooling under water.'' What keeps this collection from getting mired in sad sentiment is Lowe's obvious crush on both flesh and psyche. She leaves no orifice or emotion unexplored and finds ways to rejoice in her everyday surroundings, in the scent of skunk, in the sleeping body of her lover: ``She is rising and falling with the rumba, the umbra, the calypso. She's onboard the Ni§a, the Pinta and the mendulla oblongata.'' One can almost see the synapses sparking in Lowe's mind as her imagery unfolds. The heat it gives off is a blast.