Picks and Pans Review: Better Get Your Angel on

updated 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jennifer Allen

One short story in this collection, "Tri-centennial," begins, "What Marsha likes best about riding across the country with her brother Mickey in Mickey's pickup truck is not so much how many roadside animals her brother Mickey has shifted to Reverse to rerun over, and then shifted to Stop to strap roadside animals up on top of the flatbed roof of his pickup truck." The convolutions of prose and ideas, the hints of vicious playfulness and the eccentricity in this incomplete sentence are typical of Allen's writing. Her tales often read the way a Picasso painting looks—it's clear there's a cow in there somewhere, but it's like no cow you've ever seen.

This is Allen's first book (at 112 pages, it's awfully skimpy to qualify as a book). Her stories are so full of stylistic mannerisms, conceits and attitudes that they're provocative and entertaining even when they're enigmatic. In "Let Me Have You," for instance, a man who seems to live in the desert is telling how he passes time by cataloging his kitchen implements: "And then you figure for every pan, pot, saucer, cup, plate, bowl, spoon, fork, knife, how much you can sell each one for to all your friends that really—it really is amazing how easy it is to make friends here—and then, then you get them, your friends, to raise you five to 12 cents a day, and everyone agrees on 10 so long as you do this sky-dive out of a burning F-14, and that's all great, you yank the cord before you see your head in the rock, and hey, so, so what's a back for, anyhow?"

Other stories hinge on such subjects as a Christmas-tree decoration (the title tale) and a white skateboarder trying to impress Latino competitors. Those descriptions make the stories sound more linear than they are. The images and details add up in ways that often suggest dramatic poetry more than they do prose fiction. Whatever you call it, though, this is enticing writing, the kind that will make a reader look forward to seeing what Allen, 28, does next. (Knopf, $16.95)

From Our Partners