Five stories--three long, two short--from a talented, uneven writer, one whose best work here offers variations on obsessions with the past, the exotic, the foreign. In the title piece, a distraught husband (a book reviewer) tells of his wife's quietly insane, immensely comforting belief in the eternal existence of all living things: it began when she couldn't accept the death of her beloved childhood dog; later on, it appeared in her preoccupation with Indians, convincing them to get in touch with their ancestors; now it seems she's in love with the dead Bolshevik poet Mayakovsky. And though the story goes on far too long, spelling out its themes laboriously, Leaton gives her narrator a deadpan comic delivery that often provides just the right Kafka/fanciful tone, with more than a few Max Apple-ish laughs. (""It was two months ago it happened. Chloe didn't take me aside one afternoon and say, 'Shipp, it's the dead Russian from now on,' or anything so explicit as that."") Similarly, in ""Destiny,"" a young US expatriate's obsession with Turkish peasantry has an intriguing texture at first--reminiscent of I. B. Singer in the fable-like hopelessness--but grows wearisome and heavyhanded when strung out too long. And ""Gita's Story"" is a lighter, much shorter, more consistent treatment of a related preoccupation: the need for a colorful past--as an ordinary young German woman in postwar Ireland feels obliged to give herself a tragic history. . . with ironic, near-silly, but fairly amusing results. The other two pieces here are less distinctive: grim, detached, deterministic tales of boarding-house murder, of a young woman's willfulness (a longtime family trait that leads to tragedy). But Leaton writes good, plain prose and isn't afraid to mix the comic with the dreadful--making this a readable, occasionally beguiling, modestly rewarding collection.