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by Enid Shomer

Pub Date: April 3rd, 2007
ISBN: 0-345-49442-3
Publisher: Random House

Women in extremis are featured in this second gathering of ten stories from the Florida poet and author of the prize-winning 1993 collection Imaginary Men.

The volume gets off to a dynamic start with a mordantly funny account (“Chosen”) of Jewish suburbanite and speech therapist Iris Hornstein’s spiritual adventure, when she timidly follows the path described by two Asian strangers who assure her she’s the reincarnation of a Tibetan Buddhist saint. This story is nicely echoed by the concluding “Laws of Nature,” in which a woman contentedly ensconced in “early old age” feels and looks as if she’s growing younger, but is in fact undergoing an even more remarkable “transformation.” The other stories are a decidedly mixed lot. In “The Other Mother,” a woman who dumps her longtime lover and moves to Florida frets over the loss of their adopted daughter, her emotions sharpened by a climactic surprise that fails to disguise the fact that the story lacks a point. Much the same can be said for the story of a Radcliffe student’s romantic disillusionment during “The Summer of Questions,” and an utterly unbelievable anecdote in which a middle-aged woman finds meaning in a fender-bender and subsequent confrontation with a low-level Puerto Rican drug dealer. “Fill in the Blank” and “Sweethearts” trace the misadventures of a girl from a broken home who “had started breaking rules” in childhood, and cannot stop. Shomer’s edgy imagination functions best in a bizarre dark comedy in which a trio of women pornographers accidentally hook up with anti-nuclear protestors in “The Hottest Spot on Earth” (the Nevada desert), and in the wonderful title story, about a retired couple both united and divided by the protagonist Frieda’s memories of her active youth and enduring, inquisitive energies.

A hit-and-miss collection, but its better stories are well worth attention.