The 12 stories in Lisa Glatt's The Apple's Bruise (Simon & Schuster; paperback, $12) follow a single formula, but that repetitiveness doesn't detract from their charm. Each begins with a complex situation, a series of bizarre circumstances that took place before the story begins. The reader shows up in time to feel the aftershocks. It's an unusual way to spin a tale, one that willfully violates the Show, Don't Tell rule of storytelling.

In "Animals," a terrible heat wave may or may not be responsible for the deaths of a number of zoo animals under the care of a veterinarian whose wife recently gave him a nasty sexually transmitted disease. "Tag" takes place early in the morning, during the immediate aftermath of a one-night stand. Lust becomes a kind of refrain. "Jane is most comfortable after shots of tequila, and if it weren't for deadly diseases, would sleep with strangers more often. Unlike most women she knows, evenings with men she's only just met do not frighten her. And mornings are interesting. She likes to watch them drink their coffee."

The events of the past -- which we're told about but don't actually see for ourselves -- rarely inform these characters' decisions as we expect, and we're forced to watch them make terrible mistakes. In "Soup," the most powerful story of the book, a recent widow's teenage son is hanging out with the wrong crowd, including a thug rumored to be a rapist. She begins to seduce the kid, and by the time her better judgment returns, things have turned very ugly. Even Glatt's stories that leave loose ends dangling feel unusually real and natural.

-- Andrew Ervin

(The reviewer is a frequent contributor to Book World.)