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“Caught” is a collection of writings based on real-life observations I’ve made at particular times — or on multiple occasions — in my life. They range in length from a few paragraphs to essay length, and are painted in an emotional palette that sweeps from softest pastel to vividest fluorescent to starkest black.

There are 30 stories, and in each I delve into a human theme: expectation, desire, hope, loss, fear, joy, peace, suffering, redemption. But don’t expect earnestness and melodrama; though always empathic, the narrative is shot through with subtle irony or acidic humor, the absurd contrasting the mundane. To paraphrase famous New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker, each piece has just the right amount of poison.

For example, in “Birthday” a wife reflects on her high birthday present expectations and past gift catastrophes; in “Fried Dragonfly?” a mother contemplates what she wouldn’t do for her newly adult son. “Safe” plunges a woman into a startling reverie about a monk with a dark secret, and in “Faith” a pious woman stumbles onto the solution for a bizarre marital problem.

The title story inserts us into a provincial New Zealand backwater and the dilemma of a young woman trapped between high-vaulting ambition and gritty reality. But as with all characters in the book, she’s no cardboard cut-out; as with real life the loose ends seldom get tied. Hence the answers are neither clear-cut nor convenient, offering you, the reader, a moment with her that’s as bitter as it is sweet.