An impressive gathering of seven painstakingly wrought, ambitious stories by the critically acclaimed author of the collections Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986) and Under the 82nd Airborne (1992). Eisenberg's stories typically explore unusually complex relationships among strongly realized characters who are often both inexorably drawn to--and hopelessly wrong for--one another. She has a flair for developing an initially simple story in unexpected directions, and something of (her exemplar?) Katherine Anne Porter's ability to bring a novel-like depth to the confines of her stories. One or two gathered here misfire--notably ""Rosie Gets a Soul,"" a sprawling tale about a screwed-up female painter's experiences with peers, lovers, art, and drugs: Eisenberg's heart doesn't seem to be in it. But there are several stunners, including the title story's ""imaginary conversation,"" which its unfulfilled middle-aged protagonist holds with the charismatic older man who had tutored her and, it appears, never noticed her; and ""The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor,"" which traces with both irony and empathy its boarding-school protagonist's initiation into the facts of mortality, as well as of adult hypocrisy and folly. Another exploration of childhood, ""Mermaids,""limns the fractious and contentious nature of an outwardly contented family through the eyes of its young daughter's schoolmate, who accompanies them on an eye-opening trip to New York City. And in the best of several stories set in, and redolent of, Mexico, the superb ""Someone to Talk To,"" Eisenberg reveals the rude political awakening of a pampered concert pianist in a series of ingeniously unfolding levels of emotion and meaning. Exceptional work from one of the contemporary masters.