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Short Stories That Expand With Detail

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IN reading Elizabeth Tallent's new collection of stories, ``Honey,'' one feels a sense of having been here before. The language is precise, the structures artful, the stories working with an awareness of just how finely crafted they are. Meaning arises from the detailed images Tallent weaves together or perhaps from a character's misspoken word. At times Tallent's powerful sense of detail gives her fiction a miniaturized quality: To speak of an intricate world, something is sacrificed in terms of scope. And yet these stories differ from her earlier work in that they have a new expansiveness about them. The more one reads, the more one sees everything is almost the same, but not quite.

Many of the stories are again set in the Southwestern United States, inheriting the quality of isolation the region bequeaths. But the stories no longer always move toward the dissolution of relationships and lives. Relationships continue to dissolve, but now characters cobble together new lives. In ``Get It Back for Me,'' Tallent writes, ``That night's argument was about love, because it was almost always love, because they couldn't exhaust the momentum of If you loved me, then and You can't understand, because.'' The happy ending never comes, but neither does Armageddon, and there is no escape from the beautiful but pathetic cycles life sometimes offers.

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