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Nine eerie tales mainly concerning supernatural, sometimes horrifying, conundrums confronted by (usually) contemporary American Jews -- in a second collection (Stories of an Imaginary Childhood, 1992 -- not reviewed) from the author of the dark, occasionally diverting fantasy novel Sandman's Dust (1986). Many of these stories sport a surprise -- and often a nasty one -- at the close. In ""Gematria,"" a precious-stones dealer in Manhattan discovers that the special kind of emerald demanded by a (literally) murderous female customer is not what he'd supposed. Bouncy Alan Lapidus -- in the most amusing piece here -- plunges energetically into what he's sure will be the successful pursuit of ""The Big Metzia"" (bargain) in destitute but trade-needy Russia; he whoops it up in the former Evil Empire with the misty aid of a bewildering factotum, the all-knowing but -- as it turns out -- startlingly two-faced Igor. In ""Old Words for New,"" Professor Phragus, an Egyptologist, makes an otherworldly discovery in the cellar of an ancient temple. Other stories offer stirring reminders of the Holocaust: An assimilated Jewish lawyer ponders his insulated life, confronts a clammy link to a past of death and terror, and watches a silent film of Himmler messily killing pet chickens. The founder of ""The Library of Moloch"" -- survivor stories on tape -- dies, jealous of the survivors' faith, in flames. The author also indulges in some theological cutups in ""The Devil and the Dutchman,"" in which a rabbi has a discussion with a rather tentative, bothered devil who's brought up short by the rabbi's demand: ""You want to meet the big fella?...Can't do it...I've got a few questions I'd like to ask myself."" Bukiet's mordant twists and turns of invention have the squirmy tone of science-fiction mags, and his bitter, however admirable, sentiments are set in somewhat shrill hyperbole. Overall, then: readable tales of uneven quality.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace