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The latest work from deservedly lauded writer/performer Ivan E. Coyote ( Loose End, Bow Grip), one of the country's smartest storytellers, displays her well known fondness for extended "identity" divagations and delightful discourses upon the ways in which her gender confounds those around her.

In one story, Coyote recounts the conundrum of having to explain her urgent need for urination while the gas-station attendant charged with handing over the proper key must decide whether she needs the male or female washroom. The results? Hilarious, guileless, utterly captivating and thought-provoking, not unlike the bulk of these highly compressed and formidably honed entries.

  • The Slow Fix, by Ivan E. Coyote, Arsenal Pulp Press, 152 pages, $18.95

If the collection sometimes seems a tad too reportorial, that feature of the telling more than justifies itself by echoing the aims of The Slow Fix's form and content: To subvert gender-role preconceptions, to clear away the sexual and linguistic clutter attaching itself to what "difference" truly involves, in order to courageously move beyond it, to embrace it with expressiveness and élan.

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The picture of the Yukon-born author on the cover reveals her dilemma writ large: More Michael than Megan Fox, Coyote engages in some serious male bonding with her Uncle Bob throughout the story By Any Other Name, while in The Curse, her cousin educates her vis-à-vis the protocols surrounding that mysteriously feminine tampon-purchasing ritual.

In the affective title tale, she fights against what's accepted and expected in order to finally find a commanding voice to articulate her percolating rage, fittingly telling the homophobe in the barber chair beside her to "shut up."

Perhaps the best of the beautifully deceptive down-to-earth bounty is To Whom It May Concern, a disarmingly brutal yet unbearably vulnerable letter to a friend who disappears without explanation. It will slash your heart to shreds, it cuts that close to flesh and bone: "This not knowing. Remember when I dragged you off the street and let you sleep it off for days. ... I told you that night on the back porch I would do whatever it took, anything in my power to see you through this time, but I had one condition. My one condition wasn't even that you stay clean, because I know what a demon the meth is. ... My one condition was that you didn't lie to me any more."

It's a heartbreaker, but its pervasive sorrow and excruciating honesty redeem it, make of it a kind of parable for a generation lost. Yet ...

Poet, cultural critic and literary journalist Judith Fitzgerald's new collection of poetry, Points Elsewhere, is to be published next year. She covers poetry for The Globe and Mail's books blog, In Other Words.

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