A creepier, more macabre side of Ireland is revealed in the 16 stories here, an arresting, prizewinning debut collection from McCormack in which axes, knives, and transgressive acts figure prominently. The lead story, ""The Gospel of Knives,"" sets the tone for what follows, as a female hawker of knives persuades a young man, none too gently, that she has goods he can't do without. One of the few other female characters appears in ""The Stained Glass Violations,"" in which a librarian sitting on a park bench during her lunch break meets a retired circus freak, a glass-eater, and soon finds herself drawn into an act of glass-eating that sparks what may be a miracle. A transformation of a grimmer kind (in ""The Angel of Ruin"") is worked on a sallow Irish youth in the US who's been hired to help demolish a dangerously contaminated industrial site. Other forms of unsavory change involve a sculptor who makes the ultimate sacrifice for his art (""Thomas Crumlesh 1960--1992: A Retrospective""), chopping himself up over the years with the help of a whacked-out surgeon, who finally cuts off the artist's head and bleaches it according to his instructions for the Documenta, an avant garde art show in Germany. The title story features a pair of brothers, the younger brilliant and deeply twisted (he laughs while reading about the plague and other human disasters), the older a dark-haired drunk with a temper. They loathe each other, but when the brainy one sets off a homemade explosive that kills his best friend, the drunk's instinct is to protect him--until goaded to the point where a baser instinct takes over. Comparisons to Poe are apt, and while shocks here on occasion seem only stunts, there's no denying McCormack's knack for throwing a harsh light on some of life's grimmer comers. Disturbing, audacious work.