IN THE YEAR OF LONG DIVISION by Dawn Raffel (Knopf: $18; 117 pp.) A popular Valentine activity for children is to fold a piece of paper and cut into the crease. When the paper is opened there will be, depending on the proficiency of the child, a doily or a bizarre series of misshapen holes. Dawn Raffel’s collection of short stories, “In The Year Of Long Division,” comes from the misshapen hole school of writing, the spaces being everything that is left unsaid.
These stories are in code and follow no traditional narrative lines. The strongest ones are full of a hungry, slightly crazed intensity that is a thousand times more interesting than the world’s best doily. Here is a father and daughter going ice-skating. “The ice, I see, is swept, wet, white. “Try standing,” my father says. “Up.” There is forcefully dampered music, piped. There is no sky. No rain, no threat. “See it?” my father says. “Look.” No hint. It used to be something else, this forceful place. “Before your time,” he says.
Some of the pieces in “The Year Of Long Division” don’t have enough muscle to carry the weight of their peculiarities, but Raffel is a writer of such obvious and extreme talent that even her lesser stories are well worth reading.