A fourth volume of 11 linked stories from the prolific author of the Buddies trilogy (Everybody Loves You, 1988, etc.), about urban gay men obsessed with friendship, food, the arts, sex, and growing old. For the 20 recurring characters, the advent of AIDS has parsed life into segments: Before, Very Before, and After. Most came of age (and came out) in the early '80s and now comprise a wisecracking, extended family that keeps itself entertained through incessant gab. The ground roles? Don't take yourself too seriously, and use a lacerating quip to deflate anyone who does. The stories, meanwhile, are contrived by incidents that function simply to provide scaffolding on which to hang dish. The rambling discourse is usually vague and pointless, sometimes involving ritualized adolescent parlor games along the lines of ""If you could sleep with any porn star, who would it be?"" The literature of repartee can be hilarious (Joe Orton and Ivy Compton-Burnett come to mind), but here the effect is fatally undermined by pages of numbingly unfunny dialogue, relieved by occasional apt one-liners (""What's soliciting? Saying yes to someone over 50""), while earnest but obvious generalizations about the gay condition often smother the laughs just as they're getting naughty. The more successful tales feature endearing, quirky characters, like the sassy drag queen in ""What a Difference Miss Faye Made,"" and Konstantin, the impossibly sweet Russian construction worker in ""Jeopardy."" But the rest of the ensemble is nearly interchangeable. Truly clever conversation can sometimes compensate for otherwise undeveloped characters, but in this case neither the glib pronouncements nor empty personalities give us much reason to care about these chatterboxes.