Mothers and daughters, including mothers who give birth to babies with triangular heads, populate the seven stories in Total by Rebecca Miller (Jacob's Folly). Most of these works aren't that sci-fi, but all deal with secrets and the challenges of family life. In "Mrs. Covet," a pregnant mother accepts the offer of a nanny to bring order to her house, only for the woman to create terrifying complications. The blogger who bought a farmhouse as part of a "foray into self-determination" in "I Want You to Know" finds a typed note in a small desk, one that suggests a troubling reason she could buy the house cheap. And "Vapors" chronicles a chance encounter that leads a fashion photographer, pushing her baby in a stroller, to reflect upon past loves and infidelities.

A couple of stories are thinly developed, but the best are stunners. Among them are the title story--a speculative work in which the wealthy were once able to buy expensive Total Phones, now discontinued because women users gave birth to deformed babies, and in which a healthy teenager rescues her afflicted younger sister from the Total Care Center to which she was surrendered--and "The Chekhovians," a tale of two Martha's Vineyard families, one whose wealth has climbed while the other has endured "steady downward mobility for about a hundred years." As one character puts it, "Living is like walking on the edge of a knife." These stories, at their best, show that no amount of wealth and status makes certain inclines more gradual. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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