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The Devil You Know

Body: Jenn Farrell is back with another collection of short stories, the form she loves best. As always, her characters and the scenarios they find themselves in feel authentic, but still foreign (though maybe not to everyone). These are people on the margins, people who didn't get what they wanted or needed, people who've made mistakes, hooked up with the wrong men and have been betrayed. They are taking it pretty well. They are not always that bright, not a cerebral bunch overall, but some of them do have street smarts. I didn't always understand why they made their bad choices but maybe that mystery is part of the point. I had to wonder if these people were more than just sad -- do they find some kind of redemption and is finding a way out of a bad situation to just a semi-bad situation any kind of victory?

The best story is perhaps the first one, "Day of the Dead," because most of this mess is in Sam's past. Her mom is dead and she's only made it back in time to not honour her weird requests. "Ashes in a cardboard box only. Given to my daughter to be thrown in the garbage." As you might imagine there is a guilt trip to go along with this. Sam has basically moved past her mother's judgements and is trying to put them to rest but she still makes the mistake of thinking the funeral director wants to ask her out.

The child's perspective in "Solitaire" was very convincing but I didn't buy the stories from a male perspective and the teen ones can go both ways. "Grimsby Girls" has a fun energy and it is an interesting experiment -- girls describe losing their virginity -- but it's a little uneven. The title story about a teen girl with an inexplicable relationship with a more experienced boyfriend is disturbing but fascinating. (Kris Rothstein)

Jenn Farrell, 188 pgs, Anvil Press,, $16.95

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