Picks and Pans Review: The Shoplifter's Apprentice

UPDATED 05/29/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/29/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Ellen Lesser

The 11 measured, pungent stories in this 143-page collection are mostly about people who are, in one way or another, on the outside looking in. "For Solo Piano," for instance, depicts a single, celibate woman driven to distraction by the lovemaking sounds of the couple in the apartment above hers. "Eating Air" concerns a woman who flies from Miami to Vermont to visit her college roommate and finds herself all but ignored by the ex-roommate and her husband, who have a new baby. There's even a reversal—someone on the inside looking out longingly—with "Sara's Friend," about a woman who's in a Manhattan home for retarded adults.

The striking "Pressure for Pressure" concerns two women, one 18 or 19 and one 28, who meet in a clinic where they are about to undergo abortions. As they wait, they learn that another woman hasn't appeared for her appointment, and one of them starts wondering "about the woman who hadn't shown up. Had she miraculously gotten her period at the last minute? Or had she changed her mind, decided to go through with the pregnancy? Maybe she'd made up her mind on her own. Or maybe she had a husband or boyfriend who'd talked her into it." The quiet heartbreak in that passage is typical of the understatement that Lesser brings to bear on her reticent characters. The author of the novel The Other Woman, Lesser, 32, writes with grace and insight about alienation—that of her generation in particular and modern Americans in general. (Simon and Schuster, $11.95)

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