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While running the gamut from realism to fabulism to parable, the 14 stories in Biguenet's debut collection share a profound concern: the issue of what constitutes moral behavior.

Aiming more at the mind than the heart, these high-concept exercises in fictional ethics constantly ask what if? At his best, Biguenet can be apparently straightforward about situations that are anything but. In "The Vulgar Soul," the first story here, the narrative takes on a low-key tone to tell about a man who experiences stigmata, first as a disease, then as a lucrative gift, and finally as a spiritual responsibility. In "Fatherhood," a couple's grief over the loss of their unborn child leads them toward a creepy alternative reality worthy of The Twilight Zone that may also offer genuine redemption. In these pieces and others, notably "The Open Curtain," in which a salesman enjoys a few charmed days of clarity as his life slides into failure, and "Lunch With My Daughter," in which a father chooses to keep his parenthood a secret for his daughter's sake, Biguenet weaves a fabric so delicate that it is almost transparent, his message elusive yet haunting. Unfortunately, the author often turns preacher, condemning slavery in "My Slave" and racism in "I Am Not a Jew" in terms most of his readers will find redundant. His weakest stories can be lifeless: "Rose," another narrative of parental grief, is as unpleasantly contrived as "A Battlefield in Moonlight." But Biguenet is a brave writer, forcing the reader to consider uncomfortable realities. "Do Me" is a particularly disturbing exploration of the boundaries of contemporary love within the context of sadomasochism. The title piece, which follows "Do Me," explores the same subject but as a fable, its more formal tone belying its basic brutality.

An intellectually ambitious if uneven introduction to a talent worth watching.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-019835-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2001