The prolific Slavitt (Short Stories Are Not Real Life, etc.) here offers three first-person narratives--one Turkish and ancient, one 19th-century and Venetian, one contemporary--in a tour de force that attempts, only half-successfully, to interlink the stories in various ways. All the pieces concern family conflicts, in particular the predicament of a son who's not the beneficiary of primogeniture. In the first, Selim, the fourth son of a Turkish Sultan (``the son of a slave, for all the women...are slaves, are they not?''), is cared for by Hyacinth, ostensibly a eunuch. Selim: ``I was told over and over again to trust strangers if I had to but fear my relatives.'' The usual fate of a younger son is death, but Selim avoids that with the help of Hyacinth and a series of misadventures Ö la The Arabian Nights. The second narrative concerns Pietro, the second son of a 19th-century Venetian noble family; again, the fate of being born second results in misadventures, here foreshadowed by the death of Pietro's uncle Giancarlo, killed in a duel, and climaxed by Pietro's attempted elopement with his brother's fiancÇe. Foiled, Pietro is sent to a monastery. In the third story, Asher, a writer and American Jew, narrates his slice-of-life (in the form of an interview) from Cambridge, Massachusetts: a family with ``delusions of dynasty,'' a divorce, and the usual panoply of 20th-century problems. Finally, Slavitt tries nobly to tie all the stories together. Variations on the themes, then, of sexual repression and cruel family expectations that can be thwarted only by rebellion. Slavitt, still gifted, still erratic, carries it off with aplomb- -even when those loose ends either don't get tied up or get explained all too neatly.