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Animal Crackers: Stories
By Hannah Tinti (Dial Press; 208 pages; $22.95)

Linked, sometimes tenuously, by the presence or prescience of animals – whether a friendly elephant, a peripatetic retired fighting cock, a dead rabbit – Tinti's stories are less about the beasts than the people who surround them. The people in these stories are either vicious or victims, a dichotomy that the author continually blurs through her ingenious storytelling. Shockingly gory in parts while deceptively sweet in others, the 11 stories in Animal Crackers are all enjoyable, if for wildly different reasons. Managing to elicit sympathy from the most unlikely characters, Tinti's tales are morbidly funny and incredibly sharp, evoking a bizarre morality that would leave Aesop sleepless with worry.

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