Picks and Pans Review: Wild America

updated 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jayne Loader

Reading this collection of short stories suggests what it might be like to eat a series of meals prepared by a cook who is as likely to serve canned spaghetti and Twinkies as a seven-course continental extravaganza. It's just the thing for those who demand surprise as much as satisfaction.

Loader, a novelist and co-director of the film The Atomic Cafe, includes "Kismet," a touching story about a man and woman in their mid-'30s who, after a lifetime of being constant friends and occasional lovers, move in together when they both learn they are infected with the AIDS virus. "Wild America" is an inspired parody of "interactive" computer games in which the player becomes a character in a story. In Loader's game, though, the player becomes a thief, murderer and drug user. After typing in "DO COCAINE," the player gets the reassuring response, "You immediately feel somewhat better."

"Found in a Trunk in Springfield, Ohio" shows how inventive Loader can be, consisting entirely of a series of letters that includes an epistolary romance between a man and his brother's young widow just after World War I. The story also shows how frustrating Loader can be, since it ends with a plot turn that seems unnecessarily confusing. Her characters are also given to radical swings that are not always convincing; an example is the woman painter who suddenly turns criminal and murders someone just to know what it feels like in "For Artists Only."

Still, for those who like changes of pace in their short stories, Loader is not only unpredictable, she is also provocative as often as not. (Grove, $17.95)

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