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A substitute teacher wanders into an elementary-school classroom, tells a series of dazzling, illuminating, heartbreaking falsehoods, and disappears. This is the plot of Charles Baxter's classic short story Gryphon, and it's a serviceable metaphor for what Baxter does in this deeply satisfying collection. Through his made-up protagonists (a pair of disappointed musicians who almost fall in love; a guilt-ridden professor who horrifies his family by inviting homeless people into the guestroom), Baxter captures the hidden lives of bottled-up Midwesterners. (Pantheon)

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