September 17, 1984 12:00 PM

by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

In this collection of 16 biting, engrossing short stories, everything seems slightly askew. A lonely widow, desperate for the sense of intimacy that comes with being called by her first name but who is known to all as “Mrs. Saunders,” turns to graffiti, spray painting FRANNY in dripping red letters on playgrounds, laundry rooms and shopping malls. In the title story, inspired in part by a line by poet Robert Frost, a man battles his conscience and insomnia. In Over the Hill, a 13-year-old is exasperated by her divorced mother’s childish behavior. “If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it is to hear grown women sounding like the high school seniors who have taken over our pizzeria,” she scoffs before sabotaging her mom’s date. Most of the stories deal with separations: death, divorce and alienation. They’re told with light-handed irony and an acute understanding of the diverging signals sent out by the human psyche. Schwartz, who has three novels behind her, seems to believe that, as one character puts it, “reality is in bad taste.” She certainly creates fiction that is palatable, as well as pointed. (Harper & Row, $13.95)

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