Geographically, the characters in Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie's newest collection of short stories, have come a long way from the rez. In these new stories, characters are Auden-quoting students at WSU, horny politicians, and idealistic spiritual barometers to countless flaky hippies. Yet in the most private quarters of their hearts, their struggle with their Indian identity is always a smoldering issue.

In the supremely moving "What You Pawn I Shall Redeem," a Spokane wino spots his grandmother's fancydancing regalia in a downtown Seattle pawnshop. Overcome with a new sense of direction and purpose, the narrator spends the next 24 hours on a proverbial mission from God to raise the $999 to get the dress out of hock. "Can I Get a Witness" starts off with a suicide bombing in a yuppie restaurant. In a state of shock, a survivor finds herself in a stranger's apartment where she undergoes a cryptic and mesmerizing catharsis about the aftereffects of 9/11.

Alexie's stories are character driven--complicated, emotional, and intelligent. The characters in Ten Little Indians are members of conquered and assimilated tribes, cultural oddities in a postcolonial world, and individuals who desperately want to break free of the past but find that a life without a past is a lonely place. CHAS BOWIE

When X Equals Marylou, by Tamas Dobozy, is a collection of warped characters starring in small tales of adventure that seem to drift in a space shared by bizarre consciousness and banal realities. Contemporary fiction seems to have been hovering for quite some time over a fascination with creating odd folks, and artfully putting them through their paces. Dobozy's work is no exception, and includes a sadistic, pyromaniacal little boy who secretly traps and burns small animals alive, and a violent sleepwalker who makes himself a giant pair of wings out of stolen umbrellas.

Dobozy's style often mixes some alternate story or rhetoric into the primary consciousness of the protagonists. A quivering addict's crumbling career is woven within his grandmother's reminiscences of an adulterous romance she enjoyed in her youth, and a young man discovers through participation in AA recovery that he is not an alcoholic. The contrasts made between expectations and conventional tropes inspire the reader to join in discovering the details of why these people are weird, rather than a show-and-tell of spectacle.

Rich and thoughtful without being too sentimental, these stories are sharp and observant. They take weirdness out of the hole, letting it feel normal and warm. MARJORIE SKINNER

Kissing You has a valuable lesson to teach about fiction writing: Internal over-analysis is the literary equivalent of thin ice. In the right hands it can result in a brisk, exhilarating ride (see: Master Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius); in the wrong hands it can be the death of an otherwise good story.

And to his credit, Daniel Hayes has some pretty interesting stories to tell. In "This World of Ours" a young heterosexual man masturbates in front of two older gay storeowners in exchange for a cabinet he likes. In "Sweet Nothings" a man tells a strange woman in a bar she looks "awfully pretty." The catch? He's on a date with another woman at the time.

Hayes has a knack for finding these interesting, odd romantic or erotic situations, then magnifying them almost beyond recognition. For example, the story "Hope" (about a lonely middle-aged woman who sees visions of Bob Hope) contains this passage: "Early in 1996, Colleen's life had settled to some extent. Which is to say, she'd returned to a kind of flatness--a cleaner slate, yes, but also an emptiness, or maybe it was more a loneliness." Such meandering, double-backing sentences have their place, but when stacked up side by side for nearly 200 pages, they quickly become annoying.

Hayes is a promising writer. He's thoughtful and inquisitive, with a sharp eye for the nuances of human interaction. He also has a wonderful balance of content. Gay characters and straight characters; men and women; all are covered with equal love and devotion. Now he just needs a balance of tone, and he'll be all set. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS