Divided Souls

Dispatches from the dark side of childhood

The doctor in the title story of Chris Adrian's new collection, A Better Angel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 227 pages), is a junkie and a cheat, but that's not his biggest problem. His biggest problem is that since first grade, he's been hectored by an angel who expects him to save the world, and he can't even save his dying father.

A pediatrician by day, Adrian knows kids inside and out, and his vision of childhood is the opposite of idyllic. In Stab, a bereaved twin, mourning the loss of his brother to cancer, refuses to speak for two years; his...

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