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New Stories, Poignant and Piercing

There are 11 short stories in this hilarious, touching and bitingly wicked third collection by O. Henry Award-winner Lynda SchorThe Body Parts Shop (FC2— Fiction Collective Two; http://fc2.org; $14.95). They hit on themes as wide-ranging as American consumerism and the history of lipstick. Sex—desire, as well as obsession— undergirds each piece in a manner both erotic and unpredictable.

 In “Coming of Age,” a single mother who supports her family by writing inane articles on topics like “How to Talk Sexy to Your Husband in Bed,” is baffled by her 14-year-old daughter’s growing aloofness. When she eventually discovers that her child is employed as a high-priced call girl, her despair, rage and powerlessness are palpable. Fueling her fury is the fact that her daughter’s pimp is a young man named Chico, a.k.a. Arlen Trent Drumwoodie III, son of a conservative Republican U.S. senator. It’s a heartbreaking glimpse into a parental nightmare.

“Lips,” a meditation on make-up and adornment, merges social history with adolescent angst. Here, an unnamed narrator describes her fascination with cosmetics and brings us into her inner circle. Like her, we cringe and blush at the advances of Marc Ratner, and like her, we squirm with delight as he tentatively makes his first move. Evocative and perceptive, “Lips” crackles with energy and insight.

“Interviewing Barbie” takes another tack. This time, Schor weaves an investigation of the nine-inch plastic bombshell into a narrative about adult doll collectors. The result is entertaining, a blur of laughs and incredulity. “I think the doll strikes an emotional chord in most people,” says one aficionado. “She’s a cultural artifact without the hard edges. She’s the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, without Viet Nam.”

Other stories explore baldness and hair replacement, breasts, the eroticism of dental work, and the mass marketing of violence. Popular culture, from Tarzan movies to couples counseling, from fitness gurus to Columbine like massacres, are fodder for Schor’s keyboard. Indeed, politics meets social critique as Schor deftly derides the commercialism endemic to everyday life. Using satire and humor, she poignantly addresses recognizable social ills. The mix works, showcasing a writer who is smart, sassy and bold.

Eleanor J. Badercoauthor of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism is a frequent contributor to progressive feminist publications.