The twelve stories contained in Lucia Nevai’s collection NORMAL, many of which were formerly published in literary reviews and one in THE NEW YORKER, focus on characters caught up in one form of eccentric behavior or another, from self-mutilation to petty larceny. Cleverly written and easy to read, these stories may evoke laughter even though they deal with situations which often involve abuse.

Although quite a few of the characters in Nevai’s stories are unlikable, most are memorable. The stories which work best display the author’s affection for her characters, such as “Quinn’s Wedding,” in which a recovering alcoholic attends her sister’s wedding and defeats once and for all both her abusive father and her own fear of him. In the title story, a very young new mother who is a former drug addict displays her baby and new home to the alcoholic father who had thrown her out of his house when she was sixteen. Nevai is particularly good at depicting the obsessions and ravages of addiction, but also the joys and new found hope of recovery.

Less successful are the stories which focus on characters who are not only not “normal” but are also self-obsessed, seemingly unable to view other people as real. Nevai delineates what forces create these people, so that they become more understandable, but many bring to mind the phrase “the banality of evil.”

Whether playing her characters for laughs or seriously exploring their individual neuroses, Nevai does have a gift for bringing people alive; the fact that some are individuals you hope you never meet speaks well for the vitality of her prose.