Although many of the central characters in the stories of Heidi Jon Schmidt's Darling? bear a retrograde resemblance to the nearly neurotic females of the last couple of years--Bridget Jones, Ally McBeal, and the persona of Melissa Bank--Schmidt's intelligent, witty voice never allows them to collapse into cuteness.

The question mark in the title story says it all. A woman who has fallen manically in love with her psychologist whispers the unsure endearment in his ear after he has gone to sleep during one of her sessions; but no matter, her longing is so comically self-conscious that he serves her need for a fulfilling relationship quite nicely. Schmidt makes you like her in spite of yourself.

In "A Girl Like You" a precocious ten-year-old girl, who seems to have no friends but her dog and a lonely man in her apartment building, tries to fill the needs of her diabetic mother. Her need for the man's love is so sweet and his sadness over a previous loss is so poignant that any knee jerk fear about his being a sexual predator is quietly dispelled, even at the end of the story when a comically horrible accident takes away her dog.

"Songbirds" is a sisters story about a woman whose husband, after six years of marriage, has decided she is wrong for him. Their trip to a small town south of Florence to see her sister, with an easy-going Italian husband and two children, is a complex exploration of sibling rivalry that ends with a brittle metaphoric resolution predicted by the title.

These are stories about serious women who are wise enough not to take themselves too seriously. Readers will find them hard to resist.