Lydia Millet's first collection of short fiction, "Love in Infant Monkeys" (Soft Skull: 178 pp., $13.95 paper), is a superb book. Featuring 10 stories -- all of which revolve in some sense around the interaction of animals and famous people -- it asks all sorts of uncomfortable questions: about ourselves, about the world around us, about the very essence of being, of belonging, of what it means to exist:
"The sun was God's eye, she said, the oceans were the water of his body, the rivers were the veins carrying his blood. Did I know that? The grasses of the field were his hair and the trees were his lungs, the doves and the birds and the animals were wishes of his heart. Each one a piece of his longing," Millet writes in "Tesla and Wife," a story so beautiful it will bring tears to your eyes. ". . . Dead and alive were the same thing, she said. Dead and alive, they were exactly the same."
Millet has long been interested in the natural; in her most recent novel, 2008's "How the Dead Dream" -- the first in a projected trilogy about extinction -- a real estate developer breaks into zoos at night to visit the endangered animals. Here, however, her focus is a bit more narrow, although this paradoxically opens up the work.