That Nugent keeps the reader interested, for the most part, in the dim, disturbing lives of her characters is one of the strengths of this debut short-story collection. While Nugent's dark, detailed prose can be numbing, it contains moments of astonishing insight into the desperate thoughts and deeds of her blighted characters.
In "Riding into Day," a young girl on a train trip with her uncommunicative parents realizes that even as the train rushes them toward a new place, nothing will change for the better. In "Locusts" a girl envies her visiting cousin's budding sexuality while at the same time trying to fend off her uncle's unwelcome attentions. Nugent's best stories succeed by skillful accretion of imagery and by carefully constructed portents that pay off. The least read like mere bleak recitations of ennui and drift. Even so, Nugent has captured the malaise of modernity with a vengeance. (Knopf, $20)