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Novelist Dische (Pious Secrets, 1991) is an American living in Berlin, and these varying but generally lively stories show the influence of their author's knowing more than one culture. Dische has a facility for portraiture that gives her characters palpable identities, although they dwell in stories that don't often reach very high beyond slightness or dig very much deeper than the amusing. In the contrived ""A Prior Engagement,"" a gay American restaurateur in Berlin holds a sexual grudge for 20 years, while in ""An Innocent Vacation"" an American girl in the late '60s finds herself in Libya during the Qaddafi revolution. Whatever potential depth lies in these subjects, tone and manner remain too stylish and determinedly amusing to reach it, as they do also in ""Portrait of a Defection"" (an East German scientist tries--and fails--to leave his mother behind the Iron Curtain). Stories about old age include ""The Passion of Nanny Jackie"" (an Irish girl from an abusive family cares for an aging poet in New York), ""Mr. Lustgarten Falls in Love"" (a Polish housekeeper turns out to be not a seductress but a capable helper), and the very moving sketch of an educated European ‚migr‚ in New York suffering from advanced Alzheimer's (""The Doctor Needs a Home""). Other pieces depend on characters who tend to become unengaging through being too broadly painted, like the German woman so obtusely insensitive to Eastern bloc foreigners (""The Smuggled Wedding Ring"") or the Berlin couple who like order better than sex (""An Aesthetic Compromise of Small Importance""). Dische's impulse as satirist seems not yet at home with her impulse as an explorer of feeling, and the longish ""Strange Traffic"" (a Berlin woman, for profit, pretends to be Jewish) aims for both head and heart, tending to glance off both. Interesting, often intelligent stories still looking for their own natural way of being.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt