December 24, 2001 12:00 PM

by Christina Adam

Snakes and bats and cats—oh my! This slim collection of 26 stories is an A-to-Z menagerie of animals that change the lives of the humans who cross their paths.

In medieval times bestiaries were allegorical fables that used animals to teach moral lessons. Adam’s modern take is less preachy and more literary. Despite the cutesy story titles—”A is for Asp,” “B is for Bat”—this isn’t a kiddie collection or gimmicky pseudospiritual tome. Each entry is a well-crafted piece of fiction told in understated prose that highlights the stories’ tiny moments of magic. It’s a book for literature lovers and spiritual seekers alike.

The characters despair in that quiet way that comes with everyday life: a middle-aged wife whose husband has turned cold, a grown woman still vaguely haunted by the fat jokes of her childhood. The lessons they learn are subtle revelations, brought on by the cool touch of a snake against a bare heel or a close encounter with a bear in the forest. Not all the stories—particularly one about a fortune-telling cat named Nostradama—are serious. But all are unsentimental reminders, in their beauty and simplicity, of love. (BlueHen Putnam, $18.95)

Bottom Line: Absolutely fable-ous

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