Psychotherapist and children's author Reiner comes to dinner at the grownups' table, and brings along with her a repertoire of tall tales and shaggy-dog stories that might play well in the nursery but seem a trifle recherchÇ for the guests downstairs. The rhetoric of most of the 17 pieces here falls somewhere between surrealism and magical realism--anything but realism per se, which doesn't make much of an appearance anywhere in the volume. The narrative drift is easy to catch and frequently amusing, as in ``A Special Morning Report'' (which portrays the frustrations of a middle-aged man who finds every action of his day watched and reported on by the radio and TV news broadcasts) or ``Time and Again'' (which follows the confusions and anxieties that result from the reincarnation of a black woman from the South as a 17-year-old Connecticut preppie). Sometimes, however, the musty air of the writing workshop becomes a trifle overpowering, and results in pieces that seem more like five-finger exercises for the laptop than actual narratives in any recognizable sense. ``In My Own Words--by God'' is precisely that: a guest editorial (lament would be far too strong a word) by the author of the universe, who complains that his creation seems to have slipped from his control. ``Nietzsche Speaks'' introduces us to a semiliterate beautician who becomes suddenly erudite when drunk, and systematically turns herself into a dipsomaniac in order to finish a two-volume study of the German philosopher. And ``The Heisenbergs'' gives a brief history of the married couple by that name whose every action is surrounded by the deepest uncertainty. Low-cal and no fat throughout: There is some wit and real originality in Reiner's imagination, but all of her constructions seem to be enclosed around a single gimmick that becomes obvious in short order and holds no surprises and few insights thereafter. A three-ring circus filled with one-trick ponies.