A first collection of 13 quirky and occasionally fabulistic stories by the author of the complex brainteasing first novel Hallucinating Foucault (1996, not reviewed). Several pieces, including the lyrical title story, are only vignettes: glimpses of islands of calm (such as those “lemon trees”) standing aloof from the contemporary social muddle, or, more pointedly, expressing the polarities of male (conquest and exploitation) vs. female (escape or retaliation). “This is the way we see things,” explains a character in “The Crew of M6” (about documentary filmmakers who unwisely focus on a lesbian community), “there is a state of war, undeclared war, between men and women.” These briskly confrontational, aphorism-studded tales are, accordingly, dispatches from the front—including a flimsy piece about a feminist lecturer who rescues a bird from her cat’s clutches (“Gramsci and the Sparrow”), a woman’s surreally violent farewell to her condescending husband (“The Glass Porch”), and an erotic monologue (“The Woman Alone”) that’s also a declaration of primal female sexual power. The gender emphasis grows wearying, but Duncker’s best stories playfully vary the mix. “The Storm,” for example, a Kafkaesque parable set in an otherworldly “College,” recounts the tug of wills between an authoritarian Master and the callow author of an impertinent iconoclastic Book, whom the Master recognizes as —one tiny fragment of pure freedom that had defeated us.” And Duncker’s finest piece, the novella-length “The Arrival Matters,” offers (in addition to its witty title) a teasing revision of Shakespeare’s The Tempest: A small girl named Miranda is raised on a Caribbean island among a society of women, under the watchful eye of an ironical mother-figure who seems herself torn between the opposing claims of the (ordinarily) battling sexes. Potentially monotonous fiction redeemed by its author’s phrasemaking skill and inventive power. Duncker can get under your skin, but she’s an original and she’s worth reading.