An uneven if intermittently distinguished gathering of one essay and 15 stories (all but two original), each related to the theme of the title, from editors LeFanu and Hayward (the anthologies God, 1993, and Colors of a New Day, 1990). If juicy rationalizations get people through the day, then obsessions seem to get them through life's rough patches. Interestingly, it's the more limber, less brittle American voices here that contribute most memorably. Joyce Carol Oates's ``Life After High School'' establishes a shadowy, awkward romantic triangle whose third leg remains veiled until the epilogue. And Allan Gurganus's essay, ``Ode to Boy (Whitman at the Mall),'' has more fun with its voyeuristic survey of adolescent culture than the film Kids ever will. Meanwhile, Ivan Vladislavic's ``The Book Lover'' sends an eccentric South African bibliophile in search of the library of a woman he's fallen for entirely through the books he knows she once had. In Mary Flanagan's ``Folding,'' origami saves a group of art-school friends from their romantic confusion. ``The Anxieties of Desire,'' from James Hamilton-Paterson, follows the failed career of a French expatriate composer as he envies and loathes, with considerable anti-Semitism, the success of another, younger composer who shares his name. A few of the tales (Jeff Torrington's ``The Fade''; Adam Thorpe's ``Rigging'') suffer from English dialects that don't always ring intelligibly in American ears. Still, several minor pleasures lurk here and there. Lisa Tuttle tells a sexual ghost story (``In Jealousy''), and Ursule Molinaro completely inverts the terms of beauty in ``Rat Mother,'' one of those stories that gets funnier as it gains in grimness. Michäle Roberts's ``Lists'' is little more than an extended gimmick, but Cherry Wilder's ``Findings'' manages to wring ample suspense from a willfully limited premise. Not completely enthralling, but worth picking up for the four or five good pieces.
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