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The New York Times

Books in Brief: Fiction

By ANDY SOLOMON

WITHIN THE LIGHTED CITY

 By Lisa Lenzo.

 University of Iowa Press, $19.95.

Ann Beattie has always displayed keen vision in analyzing contemporary literature; this time she's shown it by selecting Lisa Lenzo's story collection for the University of Iowa Press's 1997 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Lenzo's nine stories, set in and around Detroit, remove just enough of the solid foundation from beneath her characters' footing. Some, like the teen-agers in ''Stealing Trees,'' imperil themselves without very much outside help, slinking into a ghetto to filch trees they plan to replant elsewhere. More quirky, even divinely foolish, is an angel named Thomas who appears in another story, botching his between-lives assignments and suffering the consequences. The remaining stories form a novel-in-pieces about the Zito family, all but one told by a daughter, Annie. Of these, ''Burning,'' ''Waiting'' and the title story stand alone brilliantly, capturing family love, personal tragedy and swelling disillusionment as Annie steps into adulthood during the 1967 riots in Detroit, learning that even her strong father can't make the world safe. Beattie has said she admires stories that yield the ''surprise'' of a recognizable world freshly rendered. In Lenzo's collection, that surprise is everywhere.   

--The New York Times

Perfect dialogue—hip, funny, wary stories marked by precision, lucidity, and daring.

--The Grand Rapids Press

Lenzo balances dread with determination, endowing her characters and her prose with offbeat grace and resolve. 

--Publishers Weekly

These stories are achingly lyrical but never sentimental, street-smart without being callous. Lisa Lenzo's stories have a strong pulse of feeling and a sly intelligence, and her angels, children and lovers have an eerie radiance, a hard-won wisdom, that you can spot on any page of this book.

--Charles Baxter

Make no mistake, the place has a language, Phillip Levine writes of Detroit in his poem ''Coming Close.'' Detroit does have a language, and its skillful articulation is what makes Lisa Lenzo's debut collection such a compelling read. The subtle violence that propels these stories and the untenable hope that endures is what make Within the Lighted City a haunting and oddly inspiring collection.

--Black Warrior Review

Lisa Lenzo is a marvelously gifted writer and I use stories from her fine collection, Within the Lighted City, whenever I teach the art of the story. She's an original voice and is the kind of writer who will have a breakout book.

--Stuart Dybek

Lenzo writes beautifully.

--The Detroit Free Press