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When the Messenger is Hot: stories    by Elizabeth Crane order for
When the Messenger is Hot
by Elizabeth Crane
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The apt cover displays a red-hot Cupid, flames rising from one hand. The sixteen stories that follow are indeed hot and humorous, fresh, quirky and perceptive, covering all the foibles and fables of modern love and romance.

The Archetype's Girlfriend is about the wilful one who always gets away and is always remembered. In Something Shiny, a biography actress takes over her subject's life and soul. In one I especially enjoyed, Privacy and Coffee, a young woman retreats from the world into the rooftop solarium of a friend's NY building, and eventually forms a romantic relationship with the elevator man.

The footnotes in The Super Fantastic New Zealand Triangle expand steadily to steal the love triangle story. You Take Naps is a wry commentary on a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. And on go stories that deal, in a riotous stream of consciousness with loves - requited and unrequited, suitable and unsuitable, sane and not quite (you have to wonder about the young woman who joined AA even though she rarely drank) - that rarely work out.

Several stories deal with a mother's death from cancer, taking the point of view of different characters. In Year-at-a-Glance, we see the daughter get the news of her mother's incipient death and 'begin a six-hour crying jag that turns my face into a pomegranate and results in the sensation of having a big wad of bubblegum burst inside my skull'. Return from the Depot! is a lighter take on death and grieving, whose heroine, in extreme denial has an Elvis-like fantasy about her mother's return - but it shares the touching, tough vulnerability of Year-at-a-Glance.

In When the Messenger is Hot, Elizabeth Crane writes about strong individuals who are out of step with modern urban life, but in their own unique fashions. When the last story in the collection ended with 'I am not most people', my reaction was to want to cheer her on.

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