THE NEWS FROM SPAIN: 7 Variations on a Love Story. By Joan Wickersham. Knopf. 224 pages. $24.95.

Like an elementary school math game, Joan Wickershamís ďThe News From SpainĒ rearranges the same handful of elements to create innovative combinations, examining the different paths that lead to heartbreak. She includes the phrase ďThe News From SpainĒ in each story, changing its meaning contextually. Other recurring components ó including a bathtub and paralysis, for example ó waft in and out of the narratives.

These stories are meant to reflect musical variations in form, but the sestina poetic construction also comes to mind. In one of her stories, she places the sopranos from two Mozart operas in modern times to fill each otherís lives in the absence of their respective philandering tenors.

Wickershamís keen insight and observation of the human heart are at once intimate and universal. ďThe News From SpainĒ cleverly explores love, its variables, and whether or not order and design influence an outcome.

ALL GONE: A Memoir of My Motherís Dementia. With Refreshments. By Alex Witchel. Riverhead. 224 pages. $26.95.

Alex Witchelís memoir, ďAll Gone,Ē is not really about cooking to cope with her motherís dementia, as the bookís cover suggests. Rather than weaving three strands together to present a smooth braid (her life, her motherís dementia and cooking), Witchelís life takes a more prominent role, leaving a lopsided product.

Itís not that her love life and rise to journalism stardom as a food writer for The New York Times arenít interesting and written well, but more than half of the pages will have turned before you encounter much about dementia.

Witchel, who tries to bring her motherís slipping personality back through the kitchen, does so mostly with recipes her mother never made. Her experience making a turkey from the hairdresserís recipe book or another Times food writerís kreplach fill the pages.

More accurately, this is a memoir of Witchelís life so far, which, because she considers cooking comforting, has lately included food in her attempt to deal with her motherís sickness. She copes by writing, not reviving her motherís recipes.

Reviewer Leah Harrison is an arts writer in Charleston.