There's no escape for the everyday sods with the misfortune to be cast in the short stories of Laura Kasischke's bracing, fascinating If a Stranger Approaches You (Sarabrande Books, $15.95). The first story, a tight jab to the guts, should convince you whether you have the will for what follows: "They'd all warned her not to snoop," it begins, and from there a teenager's mother does just what she knows she shouldn't: pick through her daughter's bedroom for a diary or a gun or something. That's what she finds—something—and to say anything more would be to deny you one of the most pungent, curious, not-quite-pleasures readers will hit upon this month.


The Lady and the Monsters
By Roseanne Montillo
William Morrow, $26.99

Little Known Facts
By Christine Sneed
Bloomsbury, $25

If a Stranger Approaches You
By Laura Kasischke
Sarabrande Books, $15.95

In story after story, Kasischke's characters do the things that they wish they were strong enough not to. She often couches extraordinary disasters in the most ordinary language, stating flatly the terrible (at times impossible) doings that might make us flinch from the book. One long tale, in which a man wants to talk to a woman who wants nothing to do with him, turns on the line "It wasn't a tackle, exactly." The feigned offhandedness—as if it's the classification that matters rather than the act itself!—only heightens the horror. There is horror here, and a direct connection to Percy and Mary Shelley: A young girl whose dolly has been chucked off a bridge imagines the nipples of a nude woman to be that doll's button eyes. There's also the poet's full command of the language: "That night," Kasischke writes, "an enormous hairless zoo animal made of silence slipped into my dream, lay down on top of me, and stayed there, like a warm snowpile, until morning." Such beauty salves the heartache.

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