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Conscientiously crafted but for the most part pedestrian stories unified by being set in New Jersey. Krist tries hard here, but often the concept underlying these pieces just isn't enough to lift them off. In ""Tribes of Northern New Jersey,"" a divorced man doesn't get along with his ex-wife's new husband--but the story dwindles out into trivia. ""Ty and Janet"" tries to capture the essence of a failed marriage between two working-class kids but remains stiff and self-conscious (""I go to the zoo a lot--I'm kind of this animal lover?--and I was at the zoo this once, looking at the penguins behind the glass there. . .""). In ""Evidence,"" a man whose wife left him years earlier becomes suddenly moralistic about the behavior of his renting neighbors--and an ending that ought to be moving misses the mark. An often prosaic effortfulness (""The whole affair with Phil seemed so strange to her, as if she had not really lived through it all. This fact disturbed her. . ."") does little to help inert material in ""Housesitting"" (a grad student seduces her professor's son) or in the even less dynamic ""Layover"" (an unforgiving grown daughter visits her divorced father--whose new wife may have cancer). There's a good deal more inventive force in the rather light story of a high-school kid who takes the job of writing eulogies (""How I Learned to Raise the Dead of Bergen County""); and both the best and most ambitious here may be ""Health,"" about the love affair between an Armenian-American and a flamboyant southern artist: he feels a burdened--and slightly sentimentalized--anger about the Armenian holocaust, and she (whose parents were lost in a hotel fire) shakes him out of indulgence and into the fiery purity of her own uncompromised way of seeing disaster and loss. Earnest and often stiffly workshop-ish efforts that begin to find their way toward the end.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1988
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich