A second collection from Lott (after A Dream of Old Leaves, 1989) comprised of a novella and 16 stories, many of which document the slow, sad movements of characters from his earlier works. The novella ""After Leston,"" which opens the volume, sets the tone: understated despair. Jewel Hilburn (the narrator of Jewel, 1991) describes the routines of her days with Brenda Kay, her retarded daughter, and reminisces about the death of her husband and her struggle to adjust to a new life in California as a widow. Most of Lott's stories proceed in similar fashion, seeming not so much narratives as character sketches. In ""Open House,"" a working-class couple acts out its fantasy of owning a house by placing a phony bid on a mansion. In ""From Ulysses, Kansas,"" a grown man whose brother has just died in a car wreck tries and fails to voice his anger toward their estranged father. The unemployed and increasingly desperate family man of ""Driveway"" cannot bring himself to tell his wife and children that their dog has been killed. The nearly broke couple who move into a motel and try to make a new start in ""The Day After Tomorrow"" find themselves haunted by a ghoulish desk clerk whose insane ramblings and insinuations convince them that they are in fact doomed. Throughout, Lott creates a landscape of almost unremitting pain, a world where hidden griefs, too deeply felt to be denied, are never far beneath the surface. Although the sorrow that pervades the lives of his characters is credible and palpable, the rhetorical restraint of the narration--""Now the kids only made it out on holidays, the rest of the time Carol and I went out by ourselves. I felt like we had lost the kids after that, like they had died""--gives the work a flatness and monotony that quickly become tedious. A sharp eye whose clarity is deadened by a too tightly closed voice. Lott (Reed's Beach, 1993, etc.) needs to come up for air.