A second collection from Giles (after Rough Translations, 1985) evokes the bitter quality of declining lives in terse--and ultimately depressing--tales. The suppressed resentment between former mates is a favorite underlying theme of this San Francisco writer's work, and her characters' sour, often self-righteous anger is evident right at the start. In ""War,"" a cynical ex-wife returning from a political meeting in Nicaragua notes the many ways her ex-husband has left his ugly mark on her house and daughter in her absence, and mocks the televised accounts of what's happening in Nicaragua with equivalent rage. In ""Leaving the Colonel,"" a housewife tells an imaginary TV interviewer exactly how she will abandon her neglectful husband. Leaving divorce behind, the tone turns weird in ""Talking to Strangers,"" in which the ghost of a murdered woman describes her ambush and dismemberment beside a hiking trail; a woman in ""The Writer's Model"" answers the tedious and puerile questions of a circle of nosy male authors, but gives up when a curious Martian shows up. In the intriguing tale ""Smoke and Mirrors,"" the heroine considers an affair with the brooding husband of a friend. The collection concludes with several complex, textured, moving explorations of grief and other sadnesses. ""Creek Walk"" describes a woman mourning her mother's death. In the angry ""Maximum Security,"" a divorced and financially strapped mom fails to get the promotion she needs. The best tale is, perhaps, the last. ""Untitled"" features a creative writing instructor bidding good-bye to her current group of students, knowing that her teaching contract has not been renewed. Here, at least, the heroine's bittersweet reflections exhibit some nuance. Often heavy-handed, but original as well: Giles's stories don't make a pretty picture, but often they do offer a convincing one.