As has been noted about MacLaverty's previous story collections (A Time to Dance, 1982; Secrets, 1984), the father-son relation calls forth his most subtle yet inevitable talents. Here, two stories in particular reveal strength--""The Break"": a Cardinal of the church is paid a visit by his elderly father; and ""Some Surrender"": a father and son, both having eluded success by a hair, deal with a closeness between them that worldly circumstance has little to do with. ""End of Season""--a widower on vacation, feinting at starting a new life--has a delicate rhythm to it, as does the title story--a sword-swallower whose humility is in inverse proportion to the truly dangerous things he performs. But much else here is less than deep: character-studies of loneliness or dislocation, very Irish in their funk but unable to wind around themselves, to cinch a knot. MacLaverty remains a more satisfying novelist--Cal, Lamb--than a writer in short forms like these.