In one of these somber, imploding short stories, a young woman--most of Beattie's people are edging-over 30--paints her intake and outgo of friends as paper dolls joining hands; and these stories deal with everyone's dogged efforts to cement those flimsy paper connections between friends and lovers. A dropout grad student follows the girl he seems to love in a long, long drive to Colorado--to a dead end where she merely "sits and waits." A man journeys back to his ex-wife trying to find--through the echo of highway static and speed--what he lost some time ago. A pet found and shared in love becomes increasingly vicious as the romantic pairing pales. And in "Friends," a shifting community of young grown-ups, joylessly playing games friends are supposed to play, is abandoned by its hostess after the invasion of homicidal, freaked-out youth--a draught of deadly reality on the hearth. So, in lieu of true or durable communions of flesh and spirit, false linkages are solemnly noted: a man and a woman both have famous fathers; a man and his child are merely "both Pisces." But, nevertheless, there are those piteous surprises, those "points of light": the touch of a long dead parent or sibling; small highs of well-being ("Sometimes when all of us are together we have good times"); and a certain peace in powerlessness--a shrouding snowstorm, a toss in the air. Beattie's people are wary and anxious, yet they possess an odd bleak courage as they take baby steps in a world that promises but cannot deliver. The second collection from a major talent.