This is Bear's first collection of short stories, and one hopes it isn't her last. Opening with a fantastically bizarre story about a bartender and a bunch of dead writers in "L'esprit d'escalier: Not a Play in One Act," and through the desolate landscape of the west in "And the Deep Blue Sea," Bear proves herself to be one of the most talented writers currently working in the field.

These stories are widely varied in both structure and theme, but there are a few unifying factors: integrity, loyalty and identity. Not all of these stories are easy to read -- Bear can be a rather prickly writer -- but nearly all are worthwhile, and there are a handful that are heartbreakingly perfect in form, execution and content, in particular "Sleeping Dogs Lie," "Two Dreams on Trains" and "This Tragic Glass." (May, 229 pp., $14.95)
Reviewed by: 
Natalie A. Luhrs