Sometimes you reach the end of a story and go quietly, "Oh." And sometimes you gasp and go, "Holy guacamole!" Not because a building fell down or a character died, but because the unexpected yet completely understandable came to pass—and made you fall off your chair. Again and again this happens in Rebecca Lee's slim, sly, brilliant book Bobcat
. The co-ed who plagiarizes her paper not only evades punishment, but also ends up celebrated in an academic symposium. The marriage that's supposed to break up at the dinner party is so, so, so not the marriage that breaks up at the dinner party. What makes this book really crackle, however, are the people who make the surprises possible. Lee's heroes live on the edges of their very sheltered world. They're the watchers and dreamers, the ones who sidestep their way into the tussle of human relationships only to end up alone with a trifle and a splintered heart. Her trifle is no metaphor, either. It's the dessert, prepared without the usual "bright childish tastes" in favor of the complexities of the "mysterious-seeming—anise, raspberry and port." Such tastes result, she claims, because the trifle-maker "knew how to live a happy life and had put in what she loved and left out what she didn't." In fiction, such a recipe would be disastrous; any exploration of the human condition requires a little of what we don't like. In Bobcat
, thankfully, that ingredient comes layered with brio, bravado, hilarity and a dollop of whipped intelligence. Dig in.