Fourteen stories about professors and graduate students faced with life's dreary dilemmas--all presented in a fashion that's sometimes academic, sometimes arch and involuted, and occasionally refreshing. Many of the pieces here are written in several parts, but too often Wexelblatt also hovers between styles, so that language games become stilted or intellectualized: ""It is impossible that nothing comes from nothing, at least once something is there to begin everything; but it seems possible--even probable from one point of view--that nothing will come from something."" A novel idea can get ruined, of course, by such verbiage. ""The Insect World,"" for instance, is a long-winded bore in which a narrator goes searching for the exiled Yagin and, after various misadventures, discovers him. ""The Punishment of Oscar,"" which begins promisingly as a study of a child unjustly punished, turns into a fictional dissertation: and in the title story--a series of instances tied together by explanations of one character's ""suburban anthropology""--Wexelblatt gives his game away: "". . .thinking is like solitaire, except that I dislike taking its rules seriously."" Of the better tales, ""A Blissful Leap"" makes good dramatic use of a disorienting point of view: a father, we discover, is describing the extramarital affair of his son-in-law; ""Dr. Zublinka"" unrolls a litany of facts about the title character by way of satirizing him and displaying his influence, even over a man intent on suicide; and ""Domenico, Allesandro, the Stinging Wasp"" juxtaposes a professional wrestler who also writes articles on Scarlatti with a graduate student who searches him out. Even here, though, a self-conscious style makes for some stilted passages. Some promising material gets swallowed up by too much learning carried too heavily--resulting, finally, in more tedium than pleasure.