Three novellas from Southern stylist Smith (The Lives of the Dead, Shine Hawk), whose palmetto-fringed tales of northern Florida's Gulf Coast are inhabited by twisted families and grim relationships tinged with madness. Redolent with Faulknerian fragrances, ``Storyville'' plunges two despairing people--a drunken small-town lawyer and the mysterious woman whose estate he's trying to unravel--into a search for his long-vanished father and her lost child, a tale that recounts her pregnancy and isolation at 14 after being raped by her father. ``Tinian'' proposes another fantastic search, as the members of a family pursue each other to the South Seas, one fleeing her husband's cruelty and sick manipulations--only to be followed there by him, his mother, and finally by his brother--and finding that his mother has become a stripper and that relations between the other two have resumed a murderous tension. ``Crystal River'' builds to a similarly bleak prospect as two men decide to drift downriver in their canoe in winter, discovering a shotgun- toting, cruel woman en route who leads them from adventure to robbery and violence before leaving them to face the consequences alone. Hard-edged and harrowing, each story studies sex and sanity with a clinical eye, paring marriages, families, and chance encounters alike down to a common astringent essence. Vividly focused on life beyond the pale of respectability, these are brash but repetitive, stuck in a quirky groove involving absent partners and desperate liaisons.