A first collection of 18 stories from novelist GÇbler (The Cure, 1994, not reviewed; etc.), writing from Northern Ireland, ranges near and far to provide gritty closeups of life’s less-distinguished moments, when desperation most overwhelms. The title piece presents an elderly ÇmigrÇ couple in London who are all but consumed by guilt at their only son’s suicide a few years earlier. Their inability to release their sadness by acknowledging a share of the blame is finally ended when the son’s widow stops by to tell them she’s remarrying. This is about as cheery as these stricken tales get. The opener, “The Chekhov Student,” is more typically lugubrious. It presents another elderly couple, unhappily married for decades, whose moment of enlightenment comes when the meek husband (—My name is Douglas Peter. . . I am extremely miserable. . . . I need to describe the troubles of my life—), having stood up at last to his spouse in one of their rows, concludes on reflection that he’s about to die. “Puerto Vallarta,”set in that Mexican resort, centers on a deranged, child-chomping Rottweiler, whose spectacular electrocution in a violent storm (as it gnaws on a pilfered chicken) is greeted with cheers by the neighbors. “Four Pesos,” which takes place in a Cuban coastal town, concerns a petty but disastrous betrayal by a Canadian tourist, on holiday to forget her just-failed marriage, who agrees to buy forbidden goods from the tourists-only store for the maid who cleans her room, then turns her in when the woman comes up a few pesos short in their exchange. The message here, “It’s a grim world, after all,” albeit precisely rendered, at the same time suffers from too narrow a focus on the bruised or broken marriage theme: tellingly, the one suggestion of a joyous union, between a journalist and the daughter of the landed gentry he’s interviewing (“A Short Story”), comes across as utterly fatuous.