THE GIFT OF PETS
By Bruce Coston (St. Martin's Press, 302 pages, $25.99)
There's wonderful material in this veterinarian's memoir, with stories ranging from heartbreaking to funny to bizarre. (Be warned: There are nauseating chapters, too. Removing pieces of a tennis ball from a rottweiler's intestinal tract is not a pretty business.) Bruce Coston remembers a grade-schooler who used his allowance to pay for cancer surgery for his beloved pet rat, knowing that it would buy the animal just a bit more time. He hilariously describes his teen experience shadowing cattle and horse vets in Minnesota. (Cleaning out a cow's innards is not pretty business, either. He opted for pet medicine instead.) Unfortunately, the storytelling doesn't measure up to the material. The author is clearly a great vet, but he tends to overwrite, peppering his stories with exclamation points and lengthy descriptions that distract from the humor, love and grief he observes every day. Pet lovers and those interested in vet work will forgive the flaws, though, and will savor the stories Coston shares.
HOLLY COLLIER WILLMARTH,
BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE: STORIES
By Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco, 288 pages, $24.99)
In yet another collection of raw, spooky and captivating stories set in troubled cities, families and psyches, Joyce Carol Oates demonstrates again that she is one of the nation's greatest writers. No one writes like her; no one so boldly explores the naïveté, narcissism and cruelty that lurk at the edges of many American lives and souls. In the title story, she returns to one of her obsessions, Marilyn Monroe, who as a young Norma Jeane Baker frets over the risks taken by her imagined 1940s roommate, Elizabeth Short, soon to be known as "the Black Dahlia," the infamous victim of a particularly horrific murder. In others, teenagers and adults with pinched lives work hard to shore up facades that fool no one but themselves. Yet as grotesque and even repulsive as some of Oates' characters can be, they are rendered with her distinctive muted compassion. And the most startling thing of all about them is that we've met these people; sometimes, we are these people. Oates' genius imagination is matched only by her mighty powers of observation. Many critics say Oates writes way too much, but this faithful reader says she can't possibly write enough.
NIGHT/WEEKEND METRO EDITOR