A debut collection from Denton, the author of several astonishing novels (Lunatics, 1996, etc.), comprises eight substantial if largely unclassifiable tales, seven dating from 198694, plus one original--a sort of sequel to Denton's 1993 novel, Blackburn. In alternate-history mode, Sam Clemens rides with a vicious band of Missouri bushwhackers until, despite his Confederate sympathies, he can no longer endure the brutality, injustice, and futility of it all. There is life after death, or so iconoclastic comedian Lenny Bruce discovers, but it's a grim, humorless existence, designed only to break the spirit and make him conform. And the company that owns a Janis Joplinlike singer re- creates her dead boyfriend in order to kick her back into creativity mood. Another tale reveals how it may be better not to kill your worst enemy. Elsewhere, a supernatural coyote takes revenge upon the hunters that torment his species; a performance artist sets herself aflame before diving off a high tower into a shallow tank of water; and, in the original entry, a Sicko schemes to obtain the ashes of executed serial killer Jimmy Blackburn in order to consume him and gain Blackburn's powers. Unsettling stuff, seemingly designed to provoke outcries (``Ugh!'' would be the least of them) by a probing and determined intelligence; what's missing, mostly, is the idiosyncratic, compulsive chemistry of Denton's novels.