A collection of six stories--mainly about the appalling human devastation in the AIDS-ravaged homosexual community--that is both epiphany and education: Barnett, while often realistic and clinically precise, is seldom merely a journalist--he'll avoid sentimentality or breast-beating in favor of cleareyed portraits that have psychological and emotional depth. ""Snapshot,"" a touching reminiscence, jumpcuts from a narrator's life with his mother and stepfather to scenes with a male lover, all the while focusing on the absent real father. Likewise, ""The Body and its Seasons"" juxtaposes bisexual Gordon's former life in a seminary with present-day sex (women are ""endlessly insatiable""). In ""Philostorgy, Now Obscure,"" Preston, diagnosed with AIDS, discusses with two women (former roommates, one knowledgeable about the disease, the other pregnant) how to tell his mother. The tone is nostalgic: ""There were times when things, like love or a pact with life, seemed possible only in the past."" ""The Times As It Knows Us"" moves into a communal dwelling where nearly everyone is either sick or HIV-positive. A kind of gallows humor prevails: everyone is mad at Perry, who advanced his career by being interviewed about the communal situation (""If it weren't for AIDS, you'd still be doing recreation therapy at Bellevue""). ""Succor"" is about a man with a ""Catholic-taught mind"" who brings dying people into his place (filled with medical apparatus) and wrestles with spiritual concerns. Last, the title story is from the point of view of a lesbian with a child, Rachel, whose surrogate father died of AIDS and who is rejecting the family dynamic in favor of heterosexuality. Most impressively, these stories create a dramatic world of the kind necessary to successful fiction without turning an all-too-literal disease into metaphor. A promising debut.