John Freeman
April 11, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A cast of misfits resides in Red Ant House, Cummins’ spectacular debut collection. Set largely in the sun-blasted deserts of the Southwest, where Indian reservations about uranium mines, Cummins’ tales read like the kind of fiction Flannery O’Connor would have written had she grown up in the region. ”I would marry my brother,” says one woman, ”though he’s sinister and disrespectful.” Family is about all Cummins’ characters have, but it often brings trouble. A cop in ”Starbust” worries that his wife has become a kleptomaniac, while the gimlet-eyed heroine of the title story nurses her depressed mother. It’d be easy to talk down to these lost souls, but Cummins speaks through them instead so we hear their woe loud and clear.

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