Odd contemporary relationships between lovers, parents, children, coworkers and friends dominate this seamless collection of stories without a misstep. Egan's characters: achingly ambitious gen Xers, middle-aged boomers and children sorting out their emotions are each cast into situations that force them to regroup, take stock and look inward to find out what really matters.
In "Why China?" a Wall Street trader trying to escape the pressures of a Securities Exchange Commission investigation takes his reluctant wife and pampered daughters on a trip to Mainland China, where he encounters a man who once conned him out of thousands of dollars. In "Emerald City" a photographer's assistant in love with a failing model struggles to maintain the hip life in New York City, "a place that glittered from a distance even when you reached it." In "Sacred Heart" a ninth-grade girl slices her arm with a razor when her admiration for Jesus Christ is replaced by an infatuation with the rebellious new redhead in school who wears tinted kneesocks and chunky silver bracelets.
The Chicago-born writer, whose well-received first novel, The Invisible Circus, was published last year, displays a gift for cool, clean, wrenching prose. Jennifer Egan has modern life down pat, and in this smartly crafted collection, she hands it over. (Doubleday, $22.50)